The 100 Best Movies on Netflix (October 2021)

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The 100 Best Movies on Netflix (October 2021)

The best movies on Netflix can be hard to find, but we’re not likely to run out of great films any time soon. There’s plenty to choose from, whether you’re looking for the best action movies, the best horror films, the best comedies or the best classic movies on Netflix. We’ve updated the list for October to remove great films that just left the streaming service, but there are plenty of top movies still streaming. October has been going strong, without any turnover at all over the course of the month.

Rather than spending your time scrolling through categories, trying to track down the perfect film to watch, we’ve done our best to make it easy for you at Paste by updating our Best Movies to watch on Netflix list each week with new additions and overlooked films alike.

Here are the 100 best movies streaming on Netflix right now:

1. Lady Bird

Year: 2017
Director: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, Beanie Feldstein, Timothee Chalamet
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: R

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Before Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan)—Lady Bird is her given name, as in “[she] gave it to [her]self”—auditions for the school musical, she watches a young man belting the final notes to “Being Alive” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A few moments before, while in a car with her mother, she lays her head on the window wistfully and says with a sigh, “I wish I could just live through something.” Stuck in Sacramento, where she thinks there’s nothing to be offered her while paying acute attention to everything her home does have to offer, Lady Bird—and the film, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, that shares her name—has ambivalence running through her veins. What a perfect match: Stephen Sondheim and Greta Gerwig. Few filmmakers are able to capture the same kind of ambiguity and mixed feelings that involve the refusal to make up one’s mind: look to 35-year-old Bobby impulsively wanting to marry a friend, but never committing to any of his girlfriends, in Company; the “hemming and hawing” of Cinderella on the, ahem, steps of the palace; or Mrs. Lovett’s cause for pause in telling Sweeney her real motives. Lady Bird isn’t as high-concept as many of Sondheim’s works, but there’s a piercing truthfulness to the film, and arguably Gerwig’s work in general, that makes its anxieties and tenderness reverberate in the viewer’s heart with equal frequency. —Kyle Turner


2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Year: 1975
Directors: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Connie Booth
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG

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It sucks that some of the shine has been taken off Holy Grail by its own overwhelming ubiquity. Nowadays, when we hear a “flesh wound,” a “ni!” or a “huge tracts of land,” our first thoughts are often of having full scenes repeated to us by clueless, obsessive nerds. Or, in my case, of repeating full scenes to people as a clueless, obsessive nerd. But, if you try and distance yourself from the over-saturation factor, and revisit the film after a few years, you’ll find new jokes that feel as fresh and hysterical as the ones we all know. Holy Grail is, indeed, the most densely packed comedy in the Python canon. There are so many jokes in this movie, and it’s surprising how easily we forget that, considering its reputation. If you’re truly and irreversibly burnt out from this movie, watch it again with commentary, and discover the second level of appreciation that comes from the inventiveness with which it was made. It certainly doesn’t look like a $400,000 movie, and it’s delightful to discover which of the gags (like the coconut halves) were born from a need for low-budget workarounds. The first-time co-direction from onscreen performer Terry Jones (who only sporadically directed after Python broke up) and lone American Terry Gilliam (who prolifically bent Python’s cinematic style into his own unique brand of nightmarish fantasy) moves with a surreal efficiency. —Graham Techler


3. The Irishman

Year: 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Jesse Plemons, Anna Paquin
Genre: Crime, Drama
Rating: R

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Peggy Sheeran (Lucy Gallina) watches her father, Frank (Robert De Niro), through a door left ajar as he packs his suitcase for a work trip. In go trousers and shirts, each neatly tucked and folded against the luggage’s interior. In goes the snubnose revolver, the ruthless tool of Frank’s trade. He doesn’t know his daughter’s eyes are on him; she’s constitutionally quiet, and remains so throughout most of their interaction as adults. He shuts the case. She disappears behind the door. Her judgment lingers. The scene plays out one third of the way into Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Irishman, named for Frank’s mob world sobriquet, and replays in its final shot, as Frank, old, decrepit and utterly, hopelessly alone, abandoned by his family and bereft of his gangster friends through the passage of time, sits on his nursing home bed. Maybe he’s waiting for Death, but most likely he’s waiting for Peggy (played as an adult by Anna Paquin), who disowned him and has no intention of forgiving him his sins. Peggy serves as Scorsese’s moral arbiter. She’s a harsh judge: The film takes a dim view of machismo as couched in the realm of mafiosa and mugs. When Scorsese’s principal characters aren’t scheming or paying off schemes in acts of violence, they’re throwing temper tantrums, eating ice cream or in an extreme case slap-fighting in a desperately pathetic throwdown. This scene echoes similarly pitiful scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel and Rashomon: brawls between wannabe roughs afraid of brawling, but forced into it by their own bravado. The Irishman spans the 1950s to the early 2000s, the years Frank worked for the Bufalino crime family, led by Russell (Joe Pesci, out of retirement and intimidating). “Working” means murdering some people, muscling others, even blowing up a car or a building when the occasion warrants. When disengaged from gangland terrorism, he’s at home reading the paper, watching the news, dragging Peggy to the local grocer to give him a beatdown for shoving her. “I only did what you should,” the poor doomed bastard says before Frank drags him out to the street and crushes his hand on the curb. The Irishman is historical nonfiction, chronicling Sheeran’s life, and through his life the lives of the Bufalinos and their associates, particularly those who died before their time (that being most of them). It’s also a portrait of childhood cast in the shadow of dispassionate brutality, and what a young girl must do to find safety in a world defined by bloodshed. —Andy Crump


4. Pan’s Labyrinth

Year: 2006
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Sergí Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Alex Angulo, Doug Jones
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Rating: R

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One of the most imaginative films of the 21st century, Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish fable is a triumph of storytelling and nothing short of a work of art. Simultaneously a war saga and a fairy tale, it traces the journey of a young girl and her scavenger hunt through another world to save her mother’s life, set in the midst of the Spanish civil war. Pan’s Labyrinth oozes atmosphere with its stunning cinematography and production values, all guided by del Toro’s keen artistic vision. With this out-and-out masterpiece, del Toro cemented his position as one of this generation’s most exciting and talented visionaries. —Jeremy Medina


5. I Am Not Your Negro

Year: 2017
Director: Raoul Peck
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13

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Raoul Peck focuses on James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House, a work that would have memorialized three of his friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. All three black men were assassinated within five years of each other, and we learn in the film that Baldwin was not just concerned about these losses as terrible blows to the Civil Rights movement, but deeply cared for the wives and children of the men who were murdered. Baldwin’s overwhelming pain is as much the subject of the film as his intellect. And so I Am Not Your Negro is not just a portrait of an artist, but a portrait of mourning—what it looks, sounds and feels like to lose friends, and to do so with the whole world watching (and with so much of America refusing to understand how it happened, and why it will keep happening). Peck could have done little else besides give us this feeling, placing us squarely in the presence of Baldwin, and I Am Not Your Negro would have likely still been a success. His decision to steer away from the usual documentary format, where respected minds comment on a subject, creates a sense of intimacy difficult to inspire in films like this. The pleasure of sitting with Baldwin’s words, and his words alone, is exquisite. There’s no interpreter, no one to explain Baldwin but Baldwin—and this is how it should be. —Shannon M. Houston


6. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Year: 1991
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Joe Morton
Rating: R

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That rare sequel that trumps its predecessor, James Cameron and co-writer William Wisher Jr. crafted a near-perfect action-movie script that flipped the original on its head and let Ahnold be a good guy. But it’s Linda Hamilton’s transformation from damsel-in-distress to bad-ass hero that makes the film so notable. Why should the guys get all the good action scenes? —Josh Jackson


7. Uncut Gems

Year: 2019
Directors: Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie
Stars: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Eric Bogosian
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R

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The proprietor of an exclusive shop in New York’s diamond district, Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) does well for himself and his family, though he can’t help but gamble compulsively, owing his brother-in-law Aron (Eric Bogosian, malevolently slimy) a substantial amount. Still, Howard has other risks to balance—his payroll’s comprised of Demany (Lakeith Stanfield), a finder of both clients and product, and Julia (Julia Fox, an unexpected beacon amidst the storm in her first feature role), a clerk with whom Howard’s carrying on an affair, “keeping” her comfortable in his New York apartment. Except his wife’s (Idina Menzel, pristinely jaded) obviously sick of his shit, and meanwhile he’s got a special delivery coming from Africa: a black opal, the stone we got to know intimately in the film’s first scene, which Howard estimates is worth millions. Then Demany happens to bring Kevin Garnett (as himself, keyed so completely into the Safdie brothers’ tone) into the shop on the same day the opal arrives, inspiring a once-in-a-lifetime bet for Howard—the kind that’ll square him with Aron and then some—as well as a host of new crap to get straight. It’s all undoubtedly stressful—really relentlessly, achingly stressful—but the Safdies, on their sixth film, seem to thrive in anxiety, capturing the inertia of Howard’s life, and of the innumerable lives colliding with his, in all of its full-bodied beauty. Just before a game, Howard reveals to Garnett his grand plan for a big payday, explaining that Garnett gets it, right? That guys like them are keyed into something greater, working on a higher wavelength than most—that this is how they win. He may be onto something, or he may be pulling everything out of his ass—regardless, we’ve always known Sandler’s had it in him. This may be exactly what we had in mind. —Dom Sinacola


8. She’s Gotta Have It

Year: 1986
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Tracy Camila Johns, Spike Lee, John Canada Terrell, Tommy Redmond Hicks
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Rating: R

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An explosively frank feature debut that immediately announced Lee’s brave, fresh new voice in American cinema, She’s Gotta Have It, shot like a documentary, is a levelheaded exploration of a young black woman named Nola (Tracy Camilla Johns) trying to decide between her three male lovers, while also flirting with her apparent bisexuality, in order to, first and foremost, figure out what makes her happy. What’s refreshing about the film is that Lee always brings up the possibility that “none of the above” is a perfectly viable answer for both Nola and for single women—a game changer in 1986. The DIY indie grainy black-and-white cinematography boosts the film’s in-your-face realism. —Oktay Ege Kozak


9. Boogie Nights

Year: 1997
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Although Boogie Nights was Paul Thomas Anderson’s first epic production with an ensemble cast, time and perspective show it’s his closest brush with perfection. The auteur specializes in building up characters to break them down, and no one in his 1997 exploration of the pornography business is exempt from his deconstructive impulses: Few directors balance the hilarious and harrowing so seamlessly, and even fewer rely on dramatic irony to achieve both. Boogie Nights may be amusing because its characters—from Mark Wahlberg’s young rising star to Julianne Moore’s fading starlet and Burt Reynold’s once-famous director who must deal with an industry changing without him—are so hapless, but their ignorance is equally heartbreaking; they earnestly desire to make a good product, even if they struggle to figure out what constitutes quality anymore. Anderson’s fictional pornographers may desperately and futilely cling to a time before video and amateur acting, but Anderson himself managed to put out a two-and-a-half hour film that is careful to never overstay its welcome—even when it asks for “one last thing.” —Allie Conti


10. Midnight RunYear: 1988
Director: Martin Brest
Stars: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, Dennis Farina, John Ashton
Rating: R

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The ’80s created the textbook action/comedy formula, and director Martin Brest was smack dab in the middle of it. His Beverly Hills Cop was originally written as a straight action movie, until Eddie Murphy was cast in the lead role. Instead of keeping the overall self-serious tone of the film and just inserting some out-of-place comedy set pieces into the narrative, Murphy and Brest infused a lighthearted tone across the entire project, while keeping the basic requirements of an action structure in place. Midnight Run, Brest’s follow-up to Beverly Hills Cop, perfects this fusion. None of the action sequences take themselves too seriously, and none of comedy comes across as mugging, desperate to extract easy chuckles. The premise and structure are very simple and fairly predictable: It’s a traditional road movie wherein a grizzled bounty hunter (Robert DeNiro) has to transport a mob accountant (Charles Grodin) across the country, with the mob and the police squarely on their tail. What makes Midnight Run still feel fresh after 30 years is Brest’s aforementioned handle on tone, and the terrific chemistry between DeNiro and Grodin, so on point it’s surprising they weren’t reunited for other similar flicks after this. Usually the rough masculine bounty hunter would be the wild card against the accountant’s stuffy straight man, yet DeNiro and Grodin find refreshing ways of tinkering with that formula, with DeNiro’s character eventually coming across as a regular good guy who was dealt more than a few bad hands, and Grodin as a lovable but sometimes infuriating weirdo. —Oktay Ege Kozak


11. Catch Me If You Can

Year: 2002
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Martin Sheen, Amy Adams, James Brolin
Rating: PG-13

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For lovers of tongue-in-cheek and smooth-as-silk ’60s crime dramedies like Stanley Donen’s wonderfully twisty Charade, Catch Me If You Can is an big fat slice of cinematic comfort food. From the minimalist and pastel animated credits sequence, accentuated wistfully by John Williams’ jazzy score, to the breezy but non-condescending adventures of charming-as-hell conman Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio in a role tailor-made for him), this is a genre throwback that crackles throughout. In only his second role with the director (after Saving Private Ryan), Spielberg regular Tom Hanks, as an anal FBI agent on Abagnale’s tail, is the straight-laced foil to DiCaprio’s wild and loose youngling, but the real MVP here is Christopher Walken as Abagnale’s strong-willed yet tragically self-destructive working class father.—Oktay Ege Kozak


12. The Piano

Year: 1993
Director: Jane Campion
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Without ever saying a word, Holly Hunter still has one of the great performances of the early ‘90s. The Piano also introduced the rest of the world to New Zealand’s Jane Campion, creator of Top of the Lake, and to actress Anna Paquin (True Blood). Set in 1850s New Zealand, the film tells of a mute, young mother trapped in arranged marriage and the farmworker (Harvey Keitel) who falls for her.


13. The Florida Project

Year: 2017
Director: Sean Baker
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Bria Vinaite, Brooklyn Prince, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb landry Jones
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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However useful a surreal approach to reframing paradise may be, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project presents a more acute critique. Baker plunges his audience into his worlds through the lens of social realism, his camera on the same playing field as Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), her mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) and the manager of the motel they live in, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). The camera lives with the characters, watches them haul a bed-bug-infested mattress outside, or sit and eat pancakes by a small creek-ish ditch. Nothing climactic happens in these scenes, we just get to watch and not pass judgment—or pass judgment, whatever, it’s up to us. Baker never interferes; the equality of these scenes under the eye of his camera makes his film’s pointed ideas about survival and joy all the more striking. The film may be buoyed with a sense of humor and, occasionally, wonder, but Halley’s life is framed by an internal struggle over whether humor and wonder can help her retain her autonomy at all in spite of her class status. The Florida Project is spattered with profound sadness, with moments of externalized, violent frustration at presumed helplessness, at practically being born into all this. To what degree you believe Baker to be condescending or patronizing or exploitative is up to you, but the film’s bursts of light, its idea of what caregiving looks like when caregiving is a privilege, is handled with sensitivity. When the film switches from 35mm to digital in its final shots, Baker imbues his camera, now mobile, with freewheeling liberation: No matter what happens after The Florida Project ends, in those last moments, these kids are born to live.


14. The Game

Year: 1997
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl
Rating: R

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One of my more fortunate movie-going experiences was seeing The Game for the first time and not knowing a damn thing about it. I can’t even remember why I saw it; I really didn’t like Seven, felt indifferent to Michael Douglas, thought David Fincher was a cold-hearted megalomaniacal automaton (I still cling to that when it suits). In hindsight, I was in the perfect frame of mind to see it. My low expectations yielded wondrous surprise. And I got the perverse joy of watching mega-yuppie Michael Douglas get the mother of all come-uppances. All this presented in an icy noir-ish Fincher sheen that achieved the rather impressive feat of satirizing conspiracy theories on a purely visual level alone. But what puts this over-the-top for me is the sheer rewatchability of the thing. Sure, it’s a contraption movie, so you always want to see what you might have missed the first time round; but it goes beyond that. I’m convinced now that I want to play The Game. I wish I had a loony left-wing Sean Penn brother who wanted to mess with me. I want that love! I want to feel the ultimate middle-aged epiphany! (And I want to be able to afford it!) Well I want lots of things I can’t have, so I guess I’ll just watch The Game again. Hell, even that ridiculous ending doesn’t seem so bad now.—Harold Brodie


15. The Master

Year: 2012
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern
Rating: R

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The Master studies its characters with such mystique, tragedy and humor that there’s not a moment that isn’t enthralling. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson continues some of the stylistic tendencies from his last film, There Will Be Blood, but he also finds ways to constantly take risks and make bold choices that are thoroughly unpredictable. Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his religion, The Cause, are obviously inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, and that link was the focal point of the film’s pre-release press coverage. The parallels between the two ideologies are inescapable, yet they’re not the point. Anderson never adopts the viewpoint of religion/cult as freak show. Even in a brilliant montage depicting a series of grueling exercises that Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix) can’t or won’t let enlighten him, the personal struggle is in the forefront. The bizarreness of the rituals is almost incidental. Phoenix gives the performance of his career as a booze-soaked World War II veteran with mental and physical scars. Having gleaned little benefit from a psychiatric crash-course for returning soldiers with post-traumatic issues, he stumbles around one place until he must flee to another, obsessing over sex and making experimental hooch. Anderson has always been a visual virtuoso, and he uses the added detail to superb effect. Dodd first appears during a tracking shot of Freddie, seen in the distance as a tiny but exuberant figure on a cruise ship, small yet still the center of attention. Freddie has not yet met Dodd, but the boat is calling to him. That could be because Dodd knew Freddie in a past life, or it could be because Freddie is a desperate drunk looking for a place to hide. Freddie’s great tragedy is that the less appealing explanation gives him no answer, while the other gives him the wrong answer. —Jeremy Mathews


16. Da 5 Bloods

Year: 2020
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Norman Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Chadwick Boseman, Jonathan Majors
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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The hunt for buried gold neither ends well nor goes off without a hitch. The long road to reconciliation, whether with one’s trauma, family or national identity, is never without bumps. Glue these truths together with the weathering effects of institutional racism, add myriad references to history—American history, music history, film history—and you get Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a classically styled Vietnam action picture made in his cinematic vision. As in 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, Lee connects the dots between past and present, linking the struggle for civil rights couched in conscientious objection and protest to contemporary America’s own struggle against state-sanctioned fascism. After opening with a montage of events comprising and figures speaking out against the Vietnam War, referred to predominantly as the American War throughout the rest of the movie, Lee introduces four of the five bloods: Otis (Clarke Peters), Paul (Delroy Lindo), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), bonded Vietnam vets returned to Ho Chi Minh City ostensibly to find and recover the bones of their fallen squad leader, Norman (Chadwick Boseman). There’s more, of course, “more” being around $17 million in gold bars planted in Vietnamese soil, property of the CIA but reappropriated by the Bloods as reparations for their personal suffering as men fighting a war for a country governed by people who don’t care about their rights. Lee’s at the height of his powers when bluntly making the case that for as much time as has passed since the Vietnam War’s conclusion, America’s still stubbornly waging the same wars on its own people and, for that matter, the rest of the world. And Lee is still angry at and discontent with the status quo, being the continued oppression of Black Americans through police brutality, voter suppression and medical neglect. In this context, Da 5 Bloods’ breadth is almost necessary. As Paul would say: Right on. —Andy Crump


17. The Guest

Year: 2014
Director: Adam Wingard
Stars: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, Leland Orser, Sheila Kelley, Brendan Meyer, Lance Reddick
Rating: R

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A slick and sexy slasher thriller from two indie horror darlings (director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett), The Guest rests its no-frills dread on the shoulders of its stars: Maika Monroe and Dan Stevens. Monroe’s scream queen status was solidified early, but Stevens’ range is such that his intense and malicious performance comes as a delightful surprise. You just don’t expect such a pretty boy to go so bad. That’s part of the dark joke of the film, which lusts after Stevens as deeply as it fears him. No mask, no “shape” holds this stalker at arm’s length. He’s human, he’s hot and that makes him all the scarier a monster. The bloody throwback is as tight as they come, and its homage is one that’s found its own place in the genre canon.—Jacob Oller


18. The Conjuring

Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Rating: R

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Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding me of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel


19. Ip Man

Year: 2008
Director: Wilson Yip
Stars: Donnie Yen, Lynn Hung, Dennis To, Syun-Wong Fen, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam
Rating: R

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2008’s Ip Man marked, finally, the moment when the truly excellent but never fairly regarded Donnie Yen came into his own, playing a loosely biographical version of the legendary grandmaster of Wing Chung and teacher of a number of future martial arts masters (one of whom was Bruce Lee). In Foshan (a city famous for martial arts in southern/central China), an unassuming practitioner of Wing Chung tries to weather the 1937 Japanese invasion and occupation of China peacefully, but is eventually forced into action. Limb-breaking, face-pulverizing action fills this semi-historical film, which succeeds gloriously both as compelling drama and martial arts fan-bait. —K. Alexander Smith


20. There Will Be Blood

Year: 2007
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ciarán Hinds, Dillon Freasier
Rating: R

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There’s an odor of Citizen Kane about There Will Be Blood. Both Charles Foster Kane, the center of Orson Welles’ 1941 masterwork, and Daniel Plainview, the protagonist of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 gem, are Shakespearean in their contradictions—too creative and too wounded to be fully condemned, too ruthless to be fully admired. Like Welles, writer/director Anderson fashioned an original cinematic language to reveal Plainview’s strange mix of genius and monstrosity. Long stretches are virtually dialogue-free, punctuated by close-ups of Daniel Day-Lewis’ glowering face—splattered with blood, sweat and petroleum—and the long shots of rickety derricks and shacks perched precariously on a savage landscape say more than words ever could. —Geoffrey Himes


21. Magnolia

Year: 1999
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Jeremy Blackman, Tom Cruise, Melinda Dillon, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, Alfred Molina, Julianne Moore
Rating: R

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Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus follows multiple plotlines, while still deeply developing each of the film’s many principle characters, played more than ably by some of the decade’s greatest actors—Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Robards and Alfred Molina, to name but half. Father/child relationships are explored, but the themes throughout are grand ones. Add in Tom Cruise’s best performance of his life and a killer soundtrack from Aimee Mann, and you have one of the greatest movies of the 1990s.—Josh Jackson


22. Christine

Year: 2016
Director: Antonio Campos
Stars: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, John Cullum, Timothy Simons
Rating: R

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Why did TV journalist Christine Chubbuck take her life on camera in 1974? The brilliance of this Antonio Campos drama is that it tries to answer that question while still respecting the enormity and unknowability of such a violent, tragic act. Rebecca Hall is momentous as Christine, a deeply unhappy woman whose ambition has never matched her talent, and the actress is incredibly sympathetic in the part. As we move closer to Christine’s inevitable demise, we come to understand that Christine isn’t a morbid whodunit but, rather, a compassionate look at gender inequality and loneliness. —Tim Grierson


23. Jaws

Year: 1975
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Rating: PG

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Is Jaws a horror film? For those who worry that it’s “not safe to go back in the water,” then most certainly it is. But regardless of how you’d classify it, there’s no denying that Jaws is anything but brilliant, one of Spielberg’s great populist triumphs, alongside the likes of Jurassic Park and E.T., but leaner and less polished than either,. Much has been made over the years of how Jaws as a film really benefits from the technical issues that plagued its making; the story originally called for more scenes featuring the mechanical shark “Bruce,” but the constantly malfunctioning animatronic forced the director to cut back, which ended up maximizing each appearance’s impact. The first time that Brody (Roy Scheider) sees the literal “jaws” of the beast while absentmindedly throwing chum into the water is one of the great, scream-inducing moments in cinema history, and it’s a shock that has rarely been matched in any other shark movie since. Likewise with the death of Quint (Robert Shaw), whose mad scramble to avoid those gnashing teeth is the kind of thing that created its very own sub-genre of children’s nightmares. Ultimately, Jaws is a great film via memorable characters, but a scary film care of novelty and perfect execution. —Jim Vorel


24. Rango

Year: 2011
Director: Gore Verbinski
Stars: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy
Genre: Animated, Comedy
Rating: PG

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The most surprising thing about Rango is how much Johnny Depp disappears into the character of a nameless pet chameleon who creates his identity when his terrarium falls out of the back of a car into the desert frontier. Unlike a certain cartoon panda, who was basically an animated version of every Jack Black character ever, Rango is no Keith Richards with an eye-patch or crazy barber/milliner/chocolatier. He’s a cipher who becomes a fraud who becomes a hero. —Josh Jackson


25. Inception

Year: 2010
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao
Rating: PG-13

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In the history of cinema, there is no twist more groan-inducing than the “it was all a dream” trope (notable exceptions like The Wizard of Oz aside). With Inception, director Christopher Nolan crafts a bracing and high-octane piece of sci-fi drama wherein that conceit isn’t just a plot device, but the totality of the story. The measured and ever-steady pace and precision with which the plot and visuals unfold, and Nolan mainstay wally Pfister’s gorgeous, globe-spanning on-location cinematography, implies a near-obsessive attention to detail. The film winds up and plays out like a clockwork beast, each additional bit of minutia coalescing to form a towering whole. Nolan’s filmmaking and Inception’s dream-delving work toward the same end: to offer us a simulation that toys with our notions of reality. As that, and as a piece of summer popcorn-flick fare, Inception succeeds quite admirably, leaving behind imagery and memories that tug and twist our perceptions—daring us to ask whether we’ve wrapped our heads around it, or we’re only half-remembering a waking dream. Director Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a book about his philosophy towards filmmaking, calling it Sculpting in Time; Nolan, on the other hand, doesn’t sculpt, he deconstructs. He uses filmmaking to tear time apart so he can put it back together as he wills. A spiritual person, Tarkovsky’s films were an expression of poetic transcendence. For Nolan, a rationalist, he wants to cheat time, cheat death. His films often avoid dealing with death head-on, though they certainly depict it. What Nolan is able to convey in a more potent fashion is the weight of time and how ephemeral and weak our grasp on existence. Time is constantly running out in Nolan’s films; a ticking clock is a recurring motif for him, one that long-time collaborator Hans Zimmer aurally literalized in the scores for Interstellar and Dunkirk. Nolan revolts against temporal reality, and film is his weapon, his tool, the paradox stairs or mirror-upon-mirror of Inception. He devises and engineers filmic structures that emphasize time’s crunch while also providing a means of escape. In Inception different layers exist within the dream world, and the deeper one goes into the subconscious the more stretched out one’s mental experience of time. If one could just go deep enough, they could live a virtual eternity in their mind’s own bottomless pit. “To sleep perchance to dream”: the closest Nolan has ever gotten to touching an afterlife.—Michael Saba and Chad Betz


26. Dick Johnson Is Dead

Year: 2020
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Stars: Kirsten Johnson, Dick Johnson
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13

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If every great documentary is about the responsibility of observation, then Kirsten Johnson’s Cameraperson is also about the fragility of that observation. With her follow-up, Dick Johnson Is Dead, Johnson continues to interrogate that fragility, crafting a deeply personal ode to that over which she has no control: her father’s death. It helps that Dick Johnson is a mellifluous soul, an incessantly warm and beaming man surrounded by friends and colleagues and acquaintances who all uniformly, genuinely love him, but from its opening shots, Johnson makes it clear that her father’s wonderful nature will only make saying goodbye to him that much more difficult. And the time when she must do so looms closer and closer. Her impetus, she reluctantly acknowledges, is partly selfish as she decides to help acquaint her father with the end of his life, reenacting in lavish cinematic vignettes the many ways in which he could go out, from falling air conditioner unit, to nail-festooned 2×4 to the face, to your run-of-the-mill tumble down the stairs, replete with broken neck. The more Johnson loses herself in the project, spending more effort consulting stunt people and art directors and assorted crew members than her own dad (sitting peacefully on set, usually napping, never being much of a bother), the more she realizes she may be exploiting someone she loves—someone who is beginning to show the alarming signs of dementia and can no longer fully grasp the high concept to which he once agreed—to assuage her own anxiety. As her dad’s memory dissipates along with his ability to take care of himself, Dick Johnson Is Dead caters less to Dick’s need to preserve some sense of immortality than to his daughter’s need, all of our need, to let go. —Dom Sinacola


27. Good Time

Year: 2017
Directors: Josh and Benny Safdie
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Buddy Duress, Peter Verby, Barkhad Abdi, Taliah Webster
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Rating: R

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The hero of Good Time is one of the canniest individuals in recent cinema, which might seem like an odd thing to say about a scummy lowlife who screws up a bank heist in the film’s opening reels. But don’t underestimate Connie: Several of the people who cross his path make that mistake, and he gets the better of them every time. Connie is played by Robert Pattinson in a performance so locked-in from the first second that it shoots off an electric spark from the actor to the audience: Just sit back, he seems to be telling us. I’ve got this under control. The financially strapped character lives in Queens, unhappy that his mentally challenged brother Nick (Benny Safdie) is cooped up in a facility that, Connie believes, doesn’t do enough to help him. Impulsively, Connie strong-arms Nick into helping him rob a bank. They make off with thousands of dollars, but what they don’t realize is that they live in the real world, not a movie. A paint bomb goes off in their bag, staining the money and the criminals’ clothes. Shaken and trying not to panic, Connie and Nick abandon their getaway car, quickly raising the suspicion of some nearby cops, who chase down Nick. Connie escapes, determined to get his brother out of jail—either through bail money or other means. As Connie, Pattinson is shockingly vital and present, unabashedly throwing himself into any situation. Following their star’s lead, the filmmakers deliver a jet-fueled variation on their usual intricate exploration of New York’s marginalized citizens. Good Time features no shootouts or car chases—there isn’t a single explosion in the whole film. The Safdies and Pattinson don’t need any of that. Like Connie, they thrive on their wits and endless inventiveness—the thrill comes in marveling at how far it can take them. —Tim Grierson


28. The Edge of Seventeen

Year: 2016
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Kyra Sedgwick, Haley Lu Richardson
Rating: R

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Craig may not always get the details right, but her larger vision—alternately pitiless and forgiving of teenage foibles in the midst of adolescence—is still bracing. And the performances she encourages from her actors help pick up the slack. This is Hailee Steinfeld’s first major performance after she burst onto the scene in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit in 2010, and if she showed remarkable pluck and heart there, she shows a talent for comedy here that one might not have been able to guess at from the earlier film. And what a joy Woody Harrelson is here, putting on a master class in minimalist acting, inspiring giggles while barely seeming to move a muscle.—Kenji Fujishima


29. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Year: 2001
Director: Adam McKay
Stars: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Amy Adams
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly go together like reconciliation and getting thrown out of Applebee’s. In one of the finest films directed by Adam McKay, the duo play race-car drivers in a loving send-up of NASCAR culture. Sacha Baron Cohen is perfect as Ferrell’s European foil Jean Girard, and the film is jam-packed with both sight gags (the live cougar in the race car) and brilliant dialogue (the prayer to eight-pound-six-ounce-newborn-infant Jesus). His sons Walker and Texas Ranger, the random appearance of Elvis Costello and Mos Def in Girard’s back yard, and Amy Adams recreating the Whitesnake video in the bar all provide Hall of Fame moments from the Judd Apatow canon.—Josh Jackson


30. Not Another Teen Movie

Year: 2001
Director: Joel Gallen
Stars: Chris Evans, Jaime Pressly, Randy Quaid
Rating: R

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Chris Evans may have gone on to bigger and better things, but his blisteringly self-effacing performance as a deluded jock in subgenre parody Not Another Teen Movie was an early peak for Captain America. Bolstered by plenty of quotable lines and an expertly sliced cookie-cutter aesthetic from director and Comedy Central staple Joel Gallen, Not Another Teen Movie is a hilarious, barbed response to the wave of convoluted teen sex comedies that ran from the ‘80s to its 2001 release. Basically, this film did to teen rom-coms what Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story did to music biopics: the parody is so good that, after watching it, it’s hard to take earnest entries seriously. Raunchy yet sharp, the movie straddles low and high-brow with plenty of success—with a pissed-off Molly Ringwald capping it all in a perfect cameo.—Jacob Oller


31. Mirai

Year: 2018
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Haru Kuroki, Moka Kamishiraishi, Gen Hoshino
Genre: Anime
Rating: PG

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Most, if not all, of Mamoru Hosoda’s original films produced in the past decade function, to some degree or another, as exercises in autobiography. Summer War, apart from a premise more or less recycled from Hosoda’s 2000 directorial debut Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!, was the many-times-removed story of Hosoda meeting his wife’s family for the first time. 2012’s Wolf Children was inspired by the passing of Hosoda’s mother, animated in part by the anxieties and aspirations at the prospect of his own impending parenthood. 2015’s The Boy and the Beast was completed just after the birth of Hosoda’s first child, the product of his own questions as to what role a father should play in the life of his son. Mirai, the director’s seventh film, is not from Hosoda’s own experience, but filtered through the experiences of his first-born son meeting his baby sibling for the first time. Told care of the perspective of Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi), a toddler who feels displaced and insecure in the wake of his sister Mirai’s birth, Mirai is a beautiful adventure fantasy drama that whisks the viewer on a dazzling odyssey across Kun’s entire family tree, culminating in a poignant conclusion that emphasizes the beauty of what it means to love and to be loved. Mirai is Hosoda’s most accomplished film, the recipient of the first Academy Award nomination for an anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli, and an experience as edifying as it is a joy to behold. —Toussaint Egan


32. House Party

Year: 1990
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Stars: Kid ‘n Play, Full Force, Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson
Rating: R

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Originally meant as a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, this high school romp follows two best friends (hip-hop duo Kid ’n Play) as they get ready to throw an epic house party. Featuring a cast filled with up-and-coming actors and hip-hop stars, the audience gets to see if, between his no-nonsense father (the late Robin Harris) and his dimwitted bullies (Full Force), Kid can survive the night. Between Hudlin’s keen direction and a hip-hop drenched soundtrack, the film is filled with infectious energy and originality that captures the life of Black American teens in the late 1980s and early 1990s. —Adreon Patterson


33. His House

Year: 2020
Director: Remi Weekes
Stars: Wunmi Mosaku, Sope Dirisu, Matt Smith
Rating: NR

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Nothing sucks the energy out of horror than movies that withhold on horror. Movies can scare audiences in a variety of ways, of course, but the very least a horror movie can be is scary instead of screwing around. Remi Weekes’ His House doesn’t screw around. The film begins with a tragedy, and within 10 minutes of that opening handily out-grudges The Grudge by leaving ghosts strewn on the floor and across the stairs where his protagonists can trip over them. Ultimately, this is a movie about the inescapable innate grief of immigrant stories, a companion piece to contemporary independent cinema like Jonas Carpignano’s Mediterranea, which captures the dangers facing immigrants on the road and at their destinations with brutal neorealist clarity. Weekes is deeply invested in Bol and Rial as people, in where they come from, what led them to leave, and most of all what they did to leave. But Weeks is equally invested in making his viewers leap out of their skins. —Andy Crump


34. Snowpiercer

Year: 2013
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Ed Harris, John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Ko A-sung
Genre: Action, Sci-fi
Rating: R

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There is a sequence midway through Snowpiercer that perfectly articulates what makes Korean writer/director Bong Joon-ho among the most dynamic filmmakers currently working. Two armies engage in a no-holds-barred, slow motion-heavy action set piece. Metal clashes against metal, and characters slash through their opponents as if their bodies were made of butter. It’s gory, imaginative, horrifying, beautiful, visceral and utterly glorious. Adapted from a French graphic novel by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer is a sci-fi thriller set in a futuristic world: Nearly two decades prior, in an ill-advised attempt to halt global warning, the government inundated the atmosphere with an experimental chemical that left our planet a barren, ice-covered wasteland. Now, the last of humanity resides on “Snowpiercer,” a vast train powered via a perpetual-motion engine and governed by a ruthless caste system. Needless to say, this scenario hasn’t exactly brought out the best of humanity. Bong’s bleak and brutal film may very well be playing a song that we’ve all heard before, but he does it with such gusto and dexterous skill you can’t help but be caught up the flurry. —Mark Rozeman


35. Apostle

Year: 2018
Director: Gareth Evans
Stars: Dan Stevens, Lucy Boynton, Michael Sheen
Genre: Horror, Drama
Rating: NR

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After the first two entries of The Raid made him a monolithic figure among action movie junkies, Apostle functions as the wider world’s introduction to the visceral filmmaking stylings of Welsh director Gareth Evans. Where his first films almost had the aesthetic of a videogame come to life—they’re about as close to a big screen adaptation of Streets of Rage as you’re ever going to find—Apostle might as well represent Evans’ desire to be taken seriously as a visual director and auteur. To do so, he’s explored some well-trodden ground in the form of the rural “cult infiltration movie,” making comparisons to the likes of The Wicker Man (or even Ti West’s The Sacrament) inevitable. However, Apostle forces its way into the year-end conversation of 2018’s best horror cinema through sheer style and verve. Every frame is beautifully composed, from the foreboding arrival of Dan Stevens’ smoldering character at the island cult compound, to the fantastically icky Grand Guignol of the third act, in which viscera flows with hedonistic abandon. Evans knows exactly how long to needle the audience with a slow-burning mystery before letting the blood dams burst; his conclusion both embraces supernatural craziness and uncomfortably realistic human violence. Gone is the precision of combat of The Raid, replaced by a clumsier brand of wanton savagery that is empowered not by honor but by desperate faith. Evans correctly concludes that this form of violence is far more frightening. —Jim Vorel


36. The Other Side of the Wind

Year: 2018
Director: Orson Welles
Stars: John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Random, Susan Strasberg, Oja Kodar
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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As gaudy and inexplicable as its title, The Other Side of the Wind nonetheless sings with the force of its movement whistling past its constraints. The wind blows: Orson Welles channels it through his studio-inflicted/self-inflicted torpor, in that process finding an organic melody—or rather, jazz. The making-of documentary They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, released by Netflix to go with this film—the streaming giant’s finest moment—shows Welles, enormous and half-baked, describing what he calls “divine accidents.” These accidents were responsible for some of his oeuvre’s best details (wherein God resides), like the breaking of the egg in Touch of Evil; they were something he aimed to chase after (like chasing the wind) with this, his final project, released several decades after its shooting as Netflix opened their coffers to open the coffin in which the raw footage was locked. His former partners on the shoot, Peter Bogdanovich and Frank Marshall, make good on their old oath to their master to complete the film for him, and in finding the spirit of the thing, deliver us a masterpiece we barely deserve. A divine accident. John Huston plays John Huston as Jake Hannaford who is also Orson Welles, trying to finish The Other Side of the Wind much like Welles tried to finish The Other Side of the Wind, over the course of years with no real budget and by the seats-of-everyone’s-pants. In contrast, the film’s scenario is set up over the course of one evening and night, Hannaford surrounded by “disciples” and peers who are invited to a party to screen some of the footage of what the director hopes will be his greatest masterpiece, in what Welles hoped would be his. The film within the film is a riff on art film, with perhaps the strongest winks at Michelangelo Antonioni and Zabriskie Point. Life imitates art: Hannaford’s house is just around the rock corner from the one Zabriskie blew to bits. Aptly, that house is the setting for most of the film about Hannaford, in theory constructed from found footage from the cineaste paparazzi. The density is dizzying, the intellect fierce. In terms of Welles’ filmography, it’s like the last act of Citizen Kane felt up by Touch of Evil, then stripped and gutted by the meta-punk of F for Fake. No art exists in a vacuum, but The Other Side of the Wind, more than most, bleeds its own context. It is about Orson Welles, showing himself. Killing himself. —Chad Betz


37. A Silent Voice

Year: 2016
Director: Naoko Yamada
Stars: Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Megumi Han
Genre: Animation, Drama
Rating: NR

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In a medium that too often feels at times constricted by the primacy of masculine aesthetic sensibilities and saturated with hyper-sexualized portrayals of women colloquially coded as “fan service,” Naoko Yamada’s presence is a welcome breath of fresh air, to say nothing of the inimitable quality of her films themselves. Inspired by the likes of Yasujiro Ozu, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Sergei Parajanov, Sofia Coppola, and Lucile Hadžihalilovic, Yamada is a director par excellence, capable of arresting attention and evoking melancholy and bittersweet catharsis through delicate compositions of deft sound, swift editing, ephemeral color palettes, and characters with rich inner lives rife with knotty, relatable struggles. A Silent Voice, adapted from Yoshitoki Oima’s manga of the same name, is a prime example of all these sensibilities at play. When Shoya Ishida meets Shoko Nishimiya, a deaf transfer student, in elementary school, he bullies her relentlessly to the amusement of his classmates. One day when Shoya goes too far, forcing Shoko to transfer again for fear of her own safety, he is branded a pariah by his peers and retreats into a state of self-imposed isolation and self-hatred. Years later, Shoya meets Shoko once again, now as teenagers, and attempts to make amends for the harm he inflicted on her, all while wrestling to understand his own motivations for doing so. A Silent Voice is a film of tremendous emotional depth—an affecting portrait of adolescent abuse, reconciliation and forgiveness for the harm perpetrated by others and ourselves. —Toussaint Egan


38. Zodiac

Year: 2007
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, John Carroll Lynch
Rating: R
Runtime: 157 minutes

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I hate to use the word “meandering,” because it sounds like an insult, but David Fincher’s 2007 thriller is meandering in the best possible way—it’s a detective story about a hunt for a serial killer that weaves its way into and out of seemingly hundreds of different milieus, ratcheting up the tension all the while. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as Robert Graysmith, an amateur sleuth and the film’s through line, while the story is content to release its clues and theories to him slowly, leaving the viewer, like Graysmith, in ambiguity for long stretches, yet still feeling like a fast-paced burner. It’s not Fincher’s most famous film, but it’s absolutely one of the most underrated thrillers since 2000. There are few scenes in modern cinema more taut than when investigators first question unheralded character actor John Carroll Lynch, portraying prime suspect Arthur Leigh Allen, as his facade slowly begins to erode—or so we think. The film is a testament to the sorrow and frustration of trying to solve an ephemeral mystery that often seems to be just out of your grasp. —Shane Ryan


39. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Year: 2020
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Stars: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Many viewers will think of ending I’m Thinking of Ending Things not long after it’s started. A cross-dissolve cascade of crude shots details the interior of a farmhouse or an apartment, or the interior of an interior. A woman we have not yet seen is practically mid-narration, telling us something for which we have no context. It feels wrong, off-putting. Something is not right. This is not how movies are supposed to work. Finally we see the woman, played brilliantly by Jessie Buckley. She is standing on the street as puffy snowflakes start to fall, like we’re within a 3-D snow globe with her. She looks up at a window a couple stories up. We see an old man looking down out of a window. We see Jesse Plemons looking down out of a window. We see Jesse Plemmons in the next shot picking up Jessie Buckley in his worn car. The movie music twinkles and swirls. Jessie Buckley’s Lucy or Lucia or Amy is thinking of ending things with Jesse’s Jake. Things aren’t going to go anywhere good, seems to be the reasoning. Jake drives the car and sometimes talks; his behaviors seem fairly consistent until they’re not, until some gesture boils up like a foreign object from another self. Louisa or Lucy is forthcoming, a fountain of personality and knowledge and interests. But sometimes she slows to a trickle, or is quiet, and suddenly she is someone else who is the same person but perhaps with different memories, different interests. Sometimes she is a painter, sometimes a physicist, sometimes neither. Jessie and Jesse are great. Their performances and their characters are hard to describe. The best movie of 2020 is terrible at being a “movie.” It does not subscribe to common patterns, rhythms, or tropes. It doesn’t even try to be a great movie, really, it simply tries to dissect the life of the mind of the other, and to do that by any cinematic means possible. The self-awareness of the film could have been unbearable, except awareness (and our fragmentary experience of it) is so entirely the point of everything that the film is wrapped up within and that is wrapped up within it. To say the film accepts both the beauty and ugliness of life would be a platitude that the film itself rejects. To say that “love conquers all,” even moreso. But these false truths flit in and about the film’s peripheral vision: illusions or ghosts, but welcome ones. —Chad Betz


40. Shutter Island

Year: 2010
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Genre: Thriller
Rating: R

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Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s pulp thriller is a brainy and compelling take on that most hoary of film genres: psychological horror. Equal parts parable and cautionary tale, Shutter Island is an expertly-paced thriller that feels far shorter and more exhilarating than its lengthy runtime suggests. Federal marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio dressed to the nines as a scenery-devouring g-man) is sent to the eponymous isle—a maximum security mental-ward-cum-penitentiary off the New England coast called Ashecliffe—to investigate a criminally insane prisoner’s disappearance. It’s quickly apparent that there’s something amiss about this case, and a palpable sense of foreboding bleeds through Scorsese’s gorgeous and ominous establishing shots: brick buildings loom against murky skies, the prisoners’ screams echo through the facility’s crumbling corridors, and Daniels, a WWII veteran, is haunted by vivid and surreal flashbacks to his dead wife and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Scorsese’s knack for getting his audiences emotionally invested in the ride fosters a near-voyeuristic thrill at seeing DiCaprio (ravenous for what might well be an Oscar nod) break down, so the fragments of his psyche can be sorted out along with the plot. Which is why Scorsese hasn’t just crafted an admirable thriller—he’s damn near made the genre his own.—Michael Saba


41. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Year: 1997
Director: Jay Roach
Stars: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley, Michael York, Seth Green, Robert Wagner, Carrie Fisher
Rating: PG-13

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Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery was a cultural touchstone when it was first released thanks to Mike Myers’ instantly iconic performance and plethora of catchphrases, but it’s really a more clever film than it’s ever truly been given credit for (unlike its sequels). A loving spoof on the entire genre of spy movies, rewatching it now is especially rewarding, given the recent announcement that the upcoming James Bond film will be dealing with the classic villain organization “SPECTRE.” With the possible return of Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, audiences may finally understand that the character of Dr. Evil is an almost perfect parody of more serious Bond source material. Austin Powers may be a true ‘90s time capsule, but many of the jokes have improved with age.—Jim Vorel


42. Under the Shadow

Year: 2016
Director: Babak Anvari
Stars: Narges Rashidi, Avin Manshadi, Bobby Naderi, Ray Haratian, Arash Marandi
Rating: PG-13

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For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris


43. ParaNorman

Year: 2012
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Stars: Kodi Smt-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rating: PG

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The beautifully crafted stop-motion film ParaNorman opens with two important pieces of information. First, we observe our young hero as he watches a B-zombie flick, complete with choppy edits and a boom mic that creeps its way into the frame. This lets us know that the filmmakers approach the upcoming story with tongues firmly planted in cheeks. Second, Norman carries on a conversation with his grandmother. This part of the scene is only significant once we learn that grandma is quite dead. The tale that follows is part Something Wicked This Way Comes, part The Goonies. The town of Blithe Hollow, once a colonial village, now a struggling tourist trap, has lived under the threat of a witch’s curse for 300 years—long enough for fear to transmogrify into camp. Norman can see and talk with ghosts, an ability that might make him quite popular with the dead set, but one that does little to improve his social standing with his living schoolmates… or his immediate family. At school, Norman is subject to bullying from students and teachers alike, and we quickly come to care for this small, tough, sweet boy as he patiently cleans the word “freak” from his locker. Another social outcast, the rotund Neil latches onto Norman, becoming his new best friend (whether Norman wants one or not). The arrival of Neil also indicates the arrival of the true heart of this endearing film, which is its humor. ParaNorman took two years to animate, and it shows in the exquisite craftsmanship of its design and execution. The artistic direction illustrates such a love for detail and texture that every bit of scenic design, from the town hall to a plastic bag caught in a fence, creates a perfect world for this story. Lead Animator Travis Knight and his sprawling team of animators, designers, and fabricators execute the vision with great flair. The result is a clear-headed and touching film about finding your own purpose, accepting others as they are and, most importantly, forgiveness. —Clay Steakley


44. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Year: 2021
Director: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe (co-director)
Stars: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Olivia Colman
Genre: Comedy/Sci-Fi

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Animated generational divides have never been more like a sci-fi carnival than in The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Writer/director Mike Rianda’s feature debut (he and co-writer/director Jeff Rowe made their bones on the excellently spooky, silly show Gravity Falls) is equal parts absurd, endearing and terrifying. It’s easy to feel as lost or overwhelmed by the flashing lights and exhilarating sights as the central family fighting on one side of the title’s grudge match, but it’s equally easy to come away with the exhausted glee of a long, weary theme park outing’s aftermath. Its genre-embedded family bursts through every messy, jam-packed frame like they’re trying to escape (they often are), and in the process create the most energetic, endearing animated comedy so far this year. And its premise begins so humbly. Filmmaker and animator Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is leaving home for college and, to get there, has to go on a road trip with her family: Rick (Danny McBride), her Luddite outdoorsy dad; Linda (Maya Rudolph), her peacemaking mom; and Aaron (Rianda), her dino-freak little brother. You might be able to guess that Katie and her dad don’t always see eye-to-eye, even when Katie’s eyes aren’t glued to her phone or laptop. That technocriticism, where “screen time” is a dirty phrase and the stick-shifting, cabin-building father figure wants his family to experience the real world, could be as hacky as the twelfth season of a Tim Allen sitcom. The Mitchells vs. the Machines escapes that danger not only through some intentional nuance in its writing, but also some big ol’ anti-nuance: Partway through the trip, the evil tech companies screw up and phone-grown robots decide to shoot all the humans into space. This movie needed something this narratively large to support its gloriously kitchen-sink visuals. The Sony film uses some of the same tech that made Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse look so crisp and unique, adding comicky shading to its expressive CG. In fact, once some of the more freaky setpieces take off, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Miles Morales swing in to save the day. The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ spin on the Spidey aesthetic comes from meme and movie-obsessed Katie, whose imagination often breaks through into the real world and whose bizarre, neon and filter-ridden sketchbook doodles ornament the film’s already exciting palette with explosive oddity. This unique and savvy style meshes well with The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ wonderfully timed slapstick, crashing and smashing with an unexpected violence, balanced out with one truly dorky pug and plenty of visual asides poking fun at whatever happens to be going on.—Jacob Oller


45. Blade Runner (1982)

Year: 1982
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos
Genre: Sci-Fi
Rating: R

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Just as The Road Warrior set the look and tone for countless post-apocalyptic cinema-scapes to follow, so too did the world of Ridley Scott’s dingy, wet and overcrowded Blade Runner set the standard for the depiction of pre-apocalyptic dystopias. But he also had Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Rutger Hauer and a cast of actors who all bring this Philip K. Dick-inspired tale of a replicant-retiring policeman to gritty, believable life. Beneath the film’s impressive set design and inspired performances lies a compelling meditation on the lurking loneliness of the human (and, perhaps, inhuman) condition that continues to resonate (and trigger new creations, like Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049) to this day. —Michael Burgin


46. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Year: 2020
Director: George C. Wolfe
Stars: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Fittingly, Chadwick Boseman’s final role is all about the blues. The late actor’s appearance in Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the August Wilson adaptation from director George C. Wolfe and writer Ruben Santiago-Hudson, is equal parts actorly showcase, angry eulogy and comprehensive lament—boiled together in the sweaty kitchen of a ‘20s Chicago recording session. A story of ambition’s multiple facets and eventual endpoints, Ma Rainey revolves around those orbiting its title character (Viola Davis). She’s a blues legend at the top of her game, finally appreciated (at least in some parts of the country) and ripe for exploitation by white men in suits. As if she’d let them. She’s comfortably late to record an album, leaving everyone else to kick up their heels and shoot the shit in true Wilson style—with Santiago-Hudson finding the essence of Wilson’s work. Davis’ brutal performance, made all the more potent by her avalanche of makeup and glistening sweat, perfectly sets the scene. She, alongside loosened neckties and whirring fans, gives the film its intended temperature and gravity so that Boseman and the rest of her band members can zip around like fireflies ambling in the summer heat. With tragic serendipity, Boseman leaves us a gift: he is on fire. Lean, with the camera placements and props emphasizing his gangly limbs (there’s a reason he wields a squashed and squat flugelhorn, a jazz staple that happens to work better visually), Levee is a highly physical role despite the chatty source material: It’s all about capturing attention, sometimes literally tap-dancing for it, with any ounce of shame overrun by an anxious energy. High-strung, twitchy and tense during a nearly five-minute monologue, Levee seems to sense the window to his dream is closing: Time is running out. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is more than Boseman’s performance, sure, with Davis and Colman Domingo going on some delicious tears of their own and Wilson’s words continuing to sear and soar in equal measure. But Boseman’s ownership of the film, an Oscar-worthy snapshot of potential and desire, gives an otherwise lovely and broad tragedy something specific to sing about.—Jacob Oller


47. The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

Year: 2019
Directors: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Kathleen Hepburn
Stars: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, Violet Nelson, Barbara Eve Harris
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR

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Nothing pays off in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Every narrative detail, demanding resolution, goes mostly unnoticed: When Rosie (Violet Nelson) takes money from Áila’s (co-director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) purse, for example, we expect that the ensuing time they spend together, the 90 minutes or so, will teach Rosie a lesson, will encourage her to return the bills. That doesn’t happen. Instead, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open tells of a chance meeting between two First Nations women, divided by socioeconomic stability but united in having both just experienced violations—Rosie’s is the latest in a string of domestic abuse incidents, while Áila’s had an IUD inserted amidst a cold, impersonal procedure, shot by cinematographer Norm Li on 16mm with a commitment to capturing Áila’s every near-traumatized grimace and wince. Li follows Áila from the office, into the street, where she spots Rosie barefoot in the rain, maybe in shock, and from there the two escape Rosie’s infuriated boyfriend to Áila’s dry, airy loft apartment. Li is always just behind, the rest of the film edited together into one, continuous shot as Áila tries to figure out what to do to help Rosie, and Rosie tries to figure out how to keep from being victimized by virtue signalling outsiders. That Áila is also a FIrst Nations woman hardly matters to Rosie; she barely even looks the part. Of course, when they do part, Rosie swallows whatever guilt she may have developed over stealing from Áila, and the caretakers at the safe house remind Áila when Rosie doesn’t want to stay that it sometimes takes people seven or eight times to relent and leave their abusive situation. We wait for resolution, for a sign that things will get better. When they don’t, we look for other signs, and we wait, left only with patience—to watch, and to never stop watching, and to sit with the weight of that, to afford the cost of empathy. —Dom Sinacola


48. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Year: 2016
Director: Taika Waititi
Stars: Sam Neill, Julian Dennison, Rima Te Wiata, Rachel House, Oscar Kightley, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne, Rhys Darby
Rating: NR

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Bella’s (Rima Te Wiata) first encounter with Ricky (Julian Dennison), the new foster child she’s agreed to take on, doesn’t inspire confidence, especially with her clumsy jokes at the expense of his weight. In turn, with child-services representative Paula (Rachel House) painting Ricky as an unruly wild child, one dreads the prospect of seeing the kid walk all over this possibly in-over-her-head mother. But Bella wears him down with kindness. And Ricky ends up less of a tough cookie than he—with his fondness for gangsta rap and all that implies—initially tried to project. An adaptation of Barry Crump’s novel Wild Pork and Watercress, Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople thrives on upending preconceived notions. The director shows sympathy for Ricky’s innocence, which is reflected in the film’s grand-adventure style. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne’s sweeping, colorful panoramas and a chapter-based narrative structure gives Hunt for the Wilderpeople the feel of a storybook fable, but thanks to the warm-hearted dynamic between Ricky and Hec (Sam Neill), even the film’s most whimsical moments carry a sense of real underlying pain: Both of these characters are outsiders ultimately looking for a home to call their own. —Kenji Fujishima


49. The Death of Stalin

Year: 2018
Director: Armando Iannucci
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Jason Isaacs
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R

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You can trace that dynamic from The Thick of It, through In the Loop and Veep, and then especially in his new film, The Death of Stalin, whose subject matter can be inferred from a mere glance. The Death of Stalin marks a major temporal departure for Iannucci, known for skewering contemporary political embarrassments and turmoil, by taking us back to 1953 Russia. Years out from the Great Purge, the country remains in the grip of widespread fear fomented by nationalism, public trials, antisemitism, executions, mass deportations and civic uncertainty. Iannucci asks us to laugh at an era not known for being especially funny. That’s the give and take at the film’s core: Iannucci drops a punchline and we guffaw, then moments later we hear a gunshot, accompanied by the sound of a fresh corpse hitting the ground. Finding humor in political violence is a big ask, and yet Iannucci’s dialogue is nimble but unfailingly harsh, replete with chafing castigations. We howl with laughter, though we can’t help feeling bad for every poor bastard caught on the receiving end of trademark Iannucci verbal abuse, which typically means we end up feeling bad for every character in his films. He spares no one from insult or injury, even when they’re lying dead on the floor, soaked in their own piss. A tale of mortal sins as well as venial ones, The Death of Stalin adds modern urgency to his comic storytelling trademarks: As nationalist sentiment rears its ugly head across the globe and macho authoritarian leaders contrive to hoard power at democracy’s expense, a farcical play on the political clusterfuck that followed Stalin’s passing feels shockingly apropos. It takes a deft hand and a rare talent to make tyranny and state sanctioned torture so funny. —Andy Crump


50. Okja

Year: 2017
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Woo Shik Choi
Genre: Sci-fi, Action
Rating: NR

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Okja takes more creative risks in its first five minutes than most films take over their entire span, and it doesn’t let up from there. What appears to be a sticking point for some critics and audiences, particularly Western ones, is the seemingly erratic tone, from sentiment to suspense to giddy action to whimsy to horror to whatever it is Jake Gyllenhaal is doing. But this is part and parcel with what makes Bong Joon-ho movies, well, Bong Joon-ho movies: They’re nuanced and complex, but they aren’t exactly subtle or restrained. They have attention to detail, but they are not delicate in their handling. They have multiple intentions, and they bring those intentions together to jam. They are imaginative works that craft momentum through part-counterpart alternations, and Okja is perhaps the finest example yet of the wild pendulum swing of a Bong film’s rhythmic tonality. Okja is also not a film about veganism, but it is a film that asks how we can find integrity and, above all, how we can act humanely towards other creatures, humans included. The answers Okja reaches are simple and vital, and without really speaking them it helps you hear those answers for yourself because it has asked all the right questions, and it has asked them in a way that is intensely engaging. —Chad Betz


51. The Night Comes for Us

Year: 2018
Director: Timo Tjahjanto
Stars: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Sonny Pang
Genre: Martial Arts, Thriller
Rating: NR

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While Gareth Evans confounded fans of The Raid movies by giving them a British folk horror film (but a darn good one) this year, Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us scratches that Indonesian ultra-violent action itch. Furiously. Then stabs a shard of cow femur through it. Come for the violence, The Night Comes for Us bids you—and, also, stay for the violence. Finally, leave because of the violence. If that sounds grueling, don’t worry, it is. You could say it’s part of the point, but that might be projecting good intentions on a film that seems to care little for what’s paving the highway to hell. It’s got pedal to metal and headed right down the gullet of the abyss. It’s also got the best choreographed and constructed combat sequences of the year, and plenty of them, and they actually get better as the film goes along. There’s a scene where Joe Taslim’s anti-hero protagonist takes on a team inside a van, the film using the confines to compress the bone-crushing, like an action compactor. Other scenes are expansive in their controlled chaos and cartoonish blood-letting, like Streets of Rage levels, come to all-too-vivid life: the butcher shop level, the car garage level and a really cool later level where you play as a dope alternate character and take on a deadly sub-boss duo who have specialized weapons and styles and—no, seriously, this movie is a videogame. You’ll forget you weren’t playing it, so intensely will you feel a part of its brutality and so tapped out you’ll feel once you beat the final boss, who happens to be The Raid-star Iko Uwais with a box-cutter. It’s exceptionally painful and it goes on forever. Despite a storyline that’s basically just an excuse for emotional involvement (Taslim’s character is trying to protect a cute little girl from the Triad and has a lost-brotherhood bit with Uwais’s character) and, more than that, an easy way to set up action scenes on top of action scenes, there’s something about the conclusion of The Night Comes For Us that still strikes some sort of nerve of pathos, despite being mostly unearned in any traditional dramatic sense. Take it as a testament to the raw power of the visceral: A certain breed of cinematic action—as if by laws of physics—demands a reaction. —Chad Betz


52. Fruitvale Station

Year: 2013
Director: Ryan Coogler
Stars: Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, Octavia Spencer
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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When someone dies young—especially in a tragic fashion—it can be tempting for the bereaved to reduce the deceased to little more than an angelic, idealized figure. We’re so understandably wrapped up in our grief that we focus on that person’s most positive characteristics, setting aside everything about him or her that doesn’t fit that glowing remembrance. Writer-director Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station aims for something far more difficult: mourning an ordinary, clearly flawed man without denying his inherent failings. This more nuanced portrait does nothing to diminish the shame of Oscar Grant’s death—if anything, it only intensifies its sting. —Tim Grierson


53. The Old Guard

Year: 2020
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Stars: Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts, Chiwitel Ejiofor, Van Veronico Ngo, Henry Melling
Genre: Action, Fantasy

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Gina Prince-Bythewood, given a budget more than worthy of the best DTV action flick anyone could hope could make it to permanent Netflix browsal, succeeds in towing, and then mildly subverting, the genre line: She proves she can capably steer a high-concept action blockbuster while cobbling together something that feels like the kind of movie “they” just don’t make anymore. All of it amounts to a one-step-forward-one-step-back appraisal: There is much to cull from the travails of Andromache the Scythian (Charlize Theron), an immortal warrior who, thousands of years later, still questions the purpose of her own endlessness, and sequels, given Netflix’s ostensibly unlimited resources, are all but guaranteed—but one wishes for more capably clear action auteurism, even when Prince-Bythewood’s action chops confidently step up. Still: There are countless joys to behold in The Old Guard, most of all the emergence of Kiki Layne—last seen as hyper-dramatic personae #1 in If Beale Street Could Talk—as exceptionally promising action star, executing a one-handed pistol cocking so confident and so unremarked-upon it automatically achieves cinematic canon. Otherwise, trigger-happy editing gets in the way of itself too often, admirable set-pieces sometimes chopped to shit, though plenty of violence—squelching and tendon-splitting—abounds, and the final villain is dispatched with such disregard for the human body that one can’t help but applaud Prince-Bythewood for getting it—for knowing that the key to good action filmmaking is treating people like piles of wet meat. —Dom Sinacola


54. Blame!

Year: 2017
Director: Hiroyuki Seshita
Stars: Sora Amamiya, Kana Hanazawa, Takahiro Sakurai
Rating: TV-14

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When it comes to dark industrial sci-fi, Tsutomu Nihei is a visionary. Trained as an architect before pursuing a career as a manga author, Nihei’s art is simultaneously sparse and labyrinthine, his body of work defined by a unifying obsession with invented spaces. Byzantine factories with gothic accents spanning across impossible chasms, populated by bow-legged synthoids and ghoulish predators touting serrated bone-swords and pulsating gristle-guns. His first and most famous series, Blame!, is considered the key text in Nihei’s aesthetic legacy, going so far as to inspire everything from videogames, to music, and even art and fashion. Past attempts have been made to adapt the series into an anime, though none have been able to materialize successfully. That is, until now. With the support of Netflix, Hiroyuki Seshita of Polygon Pictures has delivered that long-awaited Blame! film. Set on a far-future Earth consumed by a massive, self-replicating superstructure known as ‘The City’, Blame! follows Killy, a taciturn loner, wandering the layers of the planet in search of a human possessing the ‘net terminal gene,’ an elusive trait thought to be the only means of halting the city’s perpetual hostile expansion. Boasting a screenplay penned by Sadayuki Murai, famed for his writing on such series as Cowboy Bebop and Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, and supervised by Nihei himself, Seshita’s film abbreviates much of the manga’s early chapters and streamlines the story into an altogether more narrative and action-driven affair. Art director Hiroshi Takiguchi deftly replicates Nihei’s distinctive aesthetic, achieving in color what was before only monochromatic, while Yuki Moriyama capably improves on the uniform character designs of the original, imparting its casts with distinct, easily identifiable traits and silhouettes that greatly improve the story’s parsability. Blame! is as faithful an adaptation as is possible and as fitting an introduction to the series as the manga itself. Blame! builds a strong case for being not only one of the most conceptually entertaining anime films of late, but also for being one of, if not the best original anime film to grace Netflix in a long time. —Toussaint Egan


55. Wildlife

Year: 2018
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Camp, Ed Oxenbould
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13

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On its surface, Wildlife is a pretty familiar mid-century portrait of white-picket-fence America. (Spoiler alert: The nuclear family isn’t as harmonious as you might imagine.) But Paul Dano’s directorial debut is often subtler and more moving than would be expected, and the film is guided by Carey Mulligan’s stunning performance as Jeanette, a mother left to look after her teen son once her failure of a husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaves town for a temporary job. Based on Richard Ford’s novel, Wildlife sets up expectations about this woman—oh, poor Jeanette, the helpless, sensitive lass—which Mulligan expertly explodes, constantly surprising us with the character’s capacity for reinvention and calculation. Whether plotting to find a replacement for her husband or confiding in her son about what a disappointment his father is, Jeanette expresses a whole generation of women’s frustration at being repressed by a patriarchal society. Mulligan makes that frustration sexy, poignant and liberating—even if we never stop seeing the character’s increasing desperation to free herself. —Tim Grierson


56. Roma

Year: 2014
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Stars: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Alfonso Cuarón’s most intimate film is also his most distancing. The camera sits back, black-and-white, focused not on the bourgeois children that represent the cinematographer-writer-director and his siblings growing up in Mexico City several decades ago, but moreso on the indigenous woman (Yalitza Aparicio) that cares for them and the household. Not even entirely focused on her, perhaps more focused on its classicist compositions of a place that no longer exists in the way Cuarón remembers it. The camera gazes and moves in trans-plane sequencing, giving us foreground, mid-ground and background elements in stark digital clarity. The sound mix is Dolby Atmos and enveloping. But the base aesthetic and narrative is Fellini, or long-lost Mexican neorealism, or Tati’s Playtime but with sight gags replaced by social concern and personal reverie. Reserved and immersive, introspective and outward-looking, old and new—some have accused Roma of being too calculated in what it tries to do, the balancing act it tries to pull off. Perhaps they’re not wrong, but it is to Cuarón’s immense credit as a thoughtful technician and storyteller that he does, in fact, pull it off. The result is a singular film experience, one that recreates something that was lost and then navigates it in such a way as to find the emergent story, then from that to find the emotional impact. So that when we come to that point late in Roma, we don’t even realize the slow, organic process by which we’ve been invested fully into the film; we’re not ready to be hit as hard as we are when the wallops come and the waves crash. It’s almost unbearable, but we bear it because we care about these people we’ve become involved with. And such is life. —Chad Betz


57. The Squid and the Whale

Year: 2005
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, Anna Paquin
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Borrowing themes from his previous films—children of failed marriages; characters whose bookish smarts seem to work against them; a floating sense of fatalism—The Squid and the Whale creeps ever closer to Noah Baumbach’s own tempestuous past. His parents’ faltering union isn’t just a detail used to add depth to a certain character. It’s the whole story—a gorgeous, candid portrait of the messy car crash of divorce, from all angles. “It’s hard to even put myself in the mindset of those movies anymore,” he told Paste in 2005. “With Squid, these are reinventions of people that are close to me, and this is the movie I identify with the most. It is a natural extension of what I have intended and what I feel. I trusted myself more on this one.” —Keenan Mayo


58. Hugo

Year: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz
Genre: Mystery, Adventure
Rating: PG-13

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With Hugo, director Martin Scorsese has created a dazzling, wondrous experience, an undeniable visual masterpiece. In his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese weaves together his many passions and concerns: for art, for film, for fathers and father-figures. He retells the story of a boy (Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield) in search of a way to complete his father’s work. Alongside Hugo’s tale is the true story of Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), one of the world’s first filmmakers. By film’s end, Hugo makes a persuasive case that the art of film is as Méliès defines it—the invention of dreams. (And conversely, there’s a case to be made that, in our modern world, dreams are now the invention of film.) Regardless, as an ode to the history of movies, this film is a success. Indeed, it soars in visual achievement, which is what the moving pictures were originally about. Martin Scorsese has made a 3D film in an attempt to point to that lifelike quality in movies that has always existed—even before 3D. This quality is the very essence of film, and it is glorified—and rightly so—in Hugo, a cinematic tribute to the art of movies and to art itself. —Shannon M. Houston


59. The Piano

Year: 1993
Director: Jane Campion
Genre: Drama
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill
Rating: R

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Without ever saying a word, Holly Hunter still has one of the great performances of the early ‘90s. The Piano also introduced the rest of the world to New Zealand’s Jane Campion, creator of Top of the Lake, and to actress Anna Paquin (True Blood). Set in 1850s New Zealand, the film tells of a mute, young mother trapped in arranged marriage and the farmworker (Harvey Keitel) who falls for her.—Josh Jackson


60. Shirkers

Year: 2018
Director: Sandi Tan
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR

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Making sense of one’s past can be both a lifelong undertaking and a thorny proposition. In Shirkers, novelist Sandi Tan accomplishes that trickiest of endeavors, directing a documentary about herself that isn’t cloying or cringe-worthy. Quite the contrary, her movie is refreshingly candid and self-critical: She may be the star of the show, but she has a story to tell and the right perspective to frame it properly. Tan narrates the documentary as a memory piece, recounting her childhood in Singapore with her best friend Jasmine, where they were the two cool kids in their pretty square school, dreaming of being filmmakers and leaving their mark. To further that ambition, they collaborated with another friend, Sophia, on a surreal road movie called Shirkers, which would be directed by Tan’s mentor, an older teacher named Georges who carried himself as someone who knew his way around a movie camera. In her late teens and perhaps smitten with this man who showed her such attention—the documentary is cagey on the subject—Tan was intoxicated by the rush of making a film that she wrote and would be the star of. So how come we’ve never seen it? The documentary traces the strange, mysterious journey of the project, which was waylaid by Georges sneaking off with the reels of film with a vague promise of finishing the work. That never happened, and 20 years later Tan decides to open those old wounds, connecting with her old friends and trying to determine what became of Georges. Scenes from the unfinished film appear in Shirkers, tipping the audience off to the fact that there will be a happy-ish resolution to Tan’s quest. But the documentary ends up being less about tracking down the film canisters than being an exploration of nostalgia, friendship and the allure of mentors. Tan is lively, self-effacing company throughout—her voice has just the right sardonic tinge—but her visits with Jasmine and Sophia are particularly lovely and illuminating, suggesting how lifelong pals can see us in ways that we cannot. —Tim Grierson


61. Marriage Story

Year: 2019
Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Rating: R

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The way that Adam Driver ends “Being Alive,” which his character in Marriage Story has just sung in full (including dialogue asides from Company’s lead’s friends), is like watching him drain what’s left of his spirit out onto the floor, in front of his small audience (which includes us). The performance starts off kind of goofy, the uninvited theater kid taking the reins to sing one of Broadway’s greatest showstoppers, but then, in another aside, he says, “Want something… want something…” He begins to get it. He begins to understand the weight of life, the dissatisfaction of squandered intimacy and what it might mean to finally become an adult: to embrace all those contradictions, all that alienation and loneliness. He takes a deep exhalation after the final notes, after the final belt; he finally realizes he’s got to grow up, take down his old life, make something new. It’s a lot like living on the Internet these days; the impossibility of crafting an “authentic self,” negligible the term may be, is compounded by a cultural landscape that refuses to admit that “authenticity” is as inauthentic a performance as anything else. Working through identities is painful and ugly. Arguably, we’re all working through how to be ourselves in relation to those around us. And that’s what Bobby, the 35-year-old at the center of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company, is doing. The scene forces the viewer to make connections about their humanity, the art they’re experiencing, and the ever deadening world in which it all exists. Charlie grabs the microphone, drained, realizing that he has to figure out what he has to do next, to re-put his life together again. All of us, we’re putting it together too. Or trying, at least. That counts for something. —Kyle Turner


62. Total Recall

Year: 1990
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action, Thriller
Rating: R

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Very loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (and aren’t all PKD adaptations “very loose”?), Total Recall functions as a construct for Paul Verhoeven to take a high-concept premise about memory implants and lost identity and motivational uncertainty and turn it into an Arnold Schwarzenegger schlock-fest. It should be bad, but it’s not; it should be, at best, cheesy fun—but it’s even more than that. Unlike many of it’s sci-fi action peers, Total Recall never runs out of steam or ideas; it starts with the memory implant stuff, but on the back end gives us a vividly imagined Mars society with an oppressed mutant population (which is, like, the best special make-up effects portfolio ever) and a secret alien reactor that’s a MacGuffin but also a deus ex machina. The plot’s a mess but so is Arnold. It all works. Total Recall’s $60 million production budget was absolutely huge for its time, but unlike similar Hollywood ventures that put money towards glitz (like the 2012 remake, so slick it slips right out of one’s head), Verhoeven uses the loot to give us more dust, more grit, more decrepit sets, more twisted prosthetics and maximum Arnold. Verhoeven, in fact, uses Arnold as much as he uses anything else in the budget to tell this darkly exuberant story, from the contorted confusion of the set-up right on through to the eye-popping finale. It results in a sci-fi screed written in the form of a hundred Ahh-nuld faces, absurd and unforgettable. For as many times as Dick has been adapted, this is perhaps the one time the go-for-broke energy and imagination of his work has made it into the cinema (Blade Runner is something else entirely). Total Recall may have little in common with the actual content of the story it blows up, but it knows the vibe. And PKD vibes are the best kind. —Chad Betz


63. Atlantics

Year: 2019
Director: Mati Diop
Stars: Mame Bineta Sane, Amadou Mbow, Nicole Sougou, Aminate Kane
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: NR

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Atlantics is quite the announcement for writer-drector Mati Diop. She takes the magic realism of a peer like Alice Rohrwacher and carries it to the world’s margins, examining class struggle in a Senegalese city by the Atlantic. Through the gritty, blustery opening images shot as artful document of the Dakar shore (outstanding work by cinematographer Claire Mathon) and the hypnotic electronic score by Fatima Al Qadiri, Diop is able to evoke an incomparable mood and sense of place. That it might look and sound so alien to an American watching this film on Netflix is perhaps a sharp enough indictment of the ways in which we intellectually seclude ourselves from realities beyond our own. Atlantics is about that and it’s about the breaking of that. It’s about the mystery of identity and how one can find identity by taking on the identity of something other, or can find it when looking in a mirror—not for the physical self but for the spirit. Congruously, it’s also about losing the identities that are culturally prescribed, that we may have been born with, nurtured and/or limited by. Love, the film posits, is a catalyst; love helps reform identities in transgressive and transcendent ways. And the film is at its best when it avoids being programmatic, lets its visuals pulse before you. It is yet another sad ghost story amongst many, but where it differs is finely drawing the distinction that sometimes the things that haunt the living most are not the things that were but the things that should have been. The film’s protagonist embraces that haunting as a form of hope; she loses something important and fills the hole by expanding her own self with the self that was touched by others. Though Atlantics feels elliptical in many ways, Diop has the bravery to end her film with a pretty resounding period. It’s a statement, both for itself and for its creator, and it’s a convincing one. —Chad Betz


64. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Year: 1986
Director: John Hughes
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Alan Ruck, Mia Sara
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG-13

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John Hughes’ zeitgeist-y, fourth wall-busting ode to rich, entitled suburban youth vs. killjoy authority announced Matthew Broderick as a bona fide star, and gave us a chillingly prescient glimpse at Charlie Sheen’s future in an admittedly funny bit role. Breakfast Club aside, out of all Hughes’ decade of teen-centric movies set in the Chicago area, Bueller has almost certainly endured the best, and without all that tortured pretentiousness. —Scott Wold


65. High Flying Bird

Year: 2019
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: André Holland, Zazie Beetz, Melvin Gregg, Sonja Sohn
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR

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Members of the “keep your politics outta my sportsball” crowd will probably hate High Flying Bird, Steven Soderbergh’s basketball drama, his latest experimentation with iPhone and his first collaboration with imminent playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney (of Moonlight fame and success). The film forces audiences to confront the implicit and innate racial biases woven throughout American sports culture, settling specifically in the NBA’s court. Granted, the apolitical type probably wouldn’t give High Flying Bird a second thought browsing their Netflix queues anyway, and that’s just fine. Soderbergh’s filmmaking and McCraney’s writing gel together with up tempo pacing and nearly lyrical dialogue exchanged between its tight cast of characters, chiefly Ray Burke (André Holland), a sports agent doing his best to serve his client, star prospect Erick Scott (Melvin Gregg), while navigating a fictionalized lockout. The lockout’s not that fictionalized (recall events that impacted the NBA through 2011, for instance), it’s just that Soderbergh and McCraney aren’t referencing anyone or anything in particular here, beyond systemic biases, both casual and fully intentional, woven into basketball’s DNA. The film makes a surgically precise study of how governance over the game, wrested from the hands of its players and bequeathed to their owners, leads to grim power dynamics recalling the days of slave trades and auction blocks. In regards to material, it’s merciless. In regards to craftsmanship, it’s unforgiving. But curious viewers will be rewarded with one of the year’s most economical bits of closed-circuit storytelling, anchored by Holland’s towering lead performance—so long as they can keep up. —Andy Crump


66. 13th

Year: 2016
Director: Ava DuVernay
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR

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Director Ava DuVernay has successfully made a documentary that challenges and even dismantles our collective understanding of one of the most dangerous notions of our time: “progress.” How do we define progress, and who precisely gets to define it? 13th is a captivating argument against those who measure progress with laws that pretend to protect American citizens and amendments, and even to uphold the Constitution. It is a deftly woven and defiant look at how clauses within those amendments (specifically the lauded 13th) and the language of our political system both veil and reveal a profound and devastating truth about America: Slavery was never abolished here, DuVernay and the participants in the film argue. It was simply amended, and it continues to be amended in 2016, with the constant evolution of the criminal justice system. It’s a bold and terrifying statement to make, but in using a documentary instead of, say, a narrative film, DuVernay is able to point directly to that history and to those people who have defined “progress” for black Americans. In doing so, she draws a line directly from the 13th amendment, to today’s America, which has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Like some of the best documentaries of our time, 13th is not just a film, but a demand; it’s a call to reject dangerous reiterations, specifically newer and newer Jim Crows. DuVernay’s work doesn’t expressly name what we might build in their place, but it demands that those of us watching resist the seduction of sameness disguised as slow progress, and imagine something greater: actual freedom. —Shannon M. Houston


67. Kung Fu Panda

Year: 2008
Director: John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
Stars: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rating: PG

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Kung Fu Panda isn’t just a good movie—it’s a good kung fu movie. The title isn’t pandering, because the film truly respects its source material. Jack Black’s character may as well be Sammo Hung or Jackie Chan in one of his early roles. All of the classical elements are there—an obnoxious pupil who becomes a fighting machine. A team of (literally) animal-based martial artists with varying styles. An unbeatable, rampaging villain in the vein of the Ghost-Faced Killer from Mystery of Chessboxing. And a secret technique that the hero needs to learn in order to conquer that villain. It’s a funny, vibrant film as easily enjoyed by children as adults, and one that the adult viewers should feel no embarrassment for enjoying as much as they do. If you like classical martial arts filmmaking, Kung Fu Panda is probably the most faithful animated twist on the genre that anyone has pulled off so far. Too bad the same can’t be said of its overblown sequels. —J.V.


68. Hail, Caesar!

Year: 2016
Directors: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Stars: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Josh Brolin, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Alden Ehrenreich
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG-13

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The period zaniness of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Hail, Caesar! is an ode to old Hollywood—and much more—as only they can do, tracing the efforts of James Brolin’s studio scandal fixer through a parade of 1950s soundstages, back lots and actors. His latest potential headline concerns the abduction of a Biblically epic movie star—George Clooney having a helluva good time doing his best Chuck Heston/Kirk Douglas amalgam—by what turns out to be a tea sandwich-serving think tank of communists. Other subplots have Scarlett Johansson’s starlet plotting out her unwed motherhood in the public eye and the screen makeover of an unsophisticated cowboy by Ralph Fiennes’ debonairly enunciating director, Laurence Laurentz. There are dueling gossip columnist twins (Tilda Swinton pulling double duty), a hapless film editor (Frances McDormand) and scattered movies-within-the-movie, which even pauses midway through for a thoroughly enchanting—and cheeky—Gene Kelly-styled song-and-dance number starring Channing Tatum as a heavily made-up matinee star with controversial extracurricular activities. Most of the main characters/performances take blatant inspiration from Hollywood legends of yore, and the cast seems to have as much fun as the Coens. Hail, Caesar! is by no means their best work, but it’s characteristically gorgeous, spiritedly acted and rife with political, religious and creative (sub)text for moviegoers as thoughtful and dorky as Joel and Ethan themselves. —Amanda Schurr


69. Happy as Lazzaro

Year: 2018
Director: Alice Rohrwacher
Stars: Adriano Tardiolo, Alba Rohrwacher, Luca Chikovani
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13

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It’s very difficult to get into too many details about Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro without spoiling it—which seems a ridiculous thing to say about a film that starts off as a rural Italian take on Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, but you’ve got no idea until you’re watching it. Rohrwacher’s The Wonders was a more intimate, personal film that had moments of magic realism peeking through, just barely. Happy as Lazzaro similarly keeps the magic in check (though a scene with whispers in a field will start to invoke Fellini) until it no longer can—and then the magic explodes, blowing up the narrative and sending what’s left in an insanely bold direction. We can only be applaud its daring. If Dostoevsky was re-framing the Christ narrative, Happy as Lazzaro re-frames the very idea of a Christ narrative until it is something else entirely. Here, Christ is a mythic wolf and our kind idiot Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) is a touched Lazarus; the difference between them is a matter of substance, time and place. Lazzaro’s goodness, like all earthly goodness, is simultaneously transcendent and doomed, but the wolf continues on beyond any mortal coil, against the flow of humanity. Lazzaro tries to follow, perhaps foolishly, perhaps blindly…but happily, nonetheless. —Chad Betz


70. Creep

Year: 2014
Director: Patrick Brice
Stars: Mark Duplass, Patrick Brice
Rating: R

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Creep is a somewhat predictable but cheerfully demented little indie horror film, the directorial debut by Brice, who also released this year’s The Overnight. Starring the ever-prolific Mark Duplass, it’s a character study of two men—naive videographer and not-so-secretly psychotic recluse, the latter of which hires the former to come document his life out in a cabin in the woods. It leans entirely on its performances, which are excellent. Duplass, who can be charming and kooky in something like Safety Not Guaranteed, shines here as the deranged lunatic who forces himself into the protagonist’s life and haunts his every waking moment. The early moments of back-and-forth between the pair crackle with a sort of awkward intensity. Anyone genre-savvy will no doubt see where it’s going, but it’s a well-crafted ride that succeeds on the strength of chemistry between its two principal leads in a way that reminds me of the scenes between Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in Ex Machina. —Jim Vorel


71. Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Year: 1979
Director: Terry Jones
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R

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Pretty much made on George Harrison’s dime and considered, even if apocryphally, by the legendary comedy troupe to be their best film (probably because it’s the closest they’ve come to a three-act narrative with obvious “thematic concerns”), Life of Brian got banned by a lot of countries at the butt-end of the ’70s. As a Christ story, the telling of how squealy mama’s boy Brian (Graham Chapman) mistakenly finds himself as one of many messiah figures rising in Judea under the shadow of Roman occupation (around 33 AD, on a Saturday afternoon-ish), Monty Python’s follow-up to Holy Grail may be the most political film of its ilk. As such, the British group stripped all romanticism and nobility from the story’s bones, lampooning everything from radical revolutionaries to religious institutions to government bureaucracy while never stooping to pick on the figure of Jesus or his empathetic teachings. Of course, Life of Brian isn’t the first film about Jesus (or: Jesus adjacent) to focus on the human side of the so-called savior—Martin Scorsese’s take popularly did so less than a decade later—but it feels like the first to leverage human weakness against the absurdity of the Divine’s expectations. Steeped in satire fixing on everything from Spartacus to Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, and buttressed by as many iconic lines as there are crucifixes holding up the film’s frames (as Brian’s equally squealy mother hollers to the swarming masses, “He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”), the film explores Jesus’s life by obsessing over the context around it. Maybe a “virgin birth” was really just called that to cover up a Roman centurion’s sexual crimes. Maybe coincidence (and also class struggle) is reality’s only guiding force. Maybe the standard of what makes a miracle should be a little higher. And maybe the one true through line of history is that stupid people will always follow stupid people, whistling all the way to our meaningless, futile deaths. —Dom Sinacola


72. Bad Trip

Year: 2021
Director: Kitao Sakurai
Stars: Eric Andre, Tiffany Haddish, Lil Rel Howery, Michaela Conlin
Rating: R

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What’s most distinguishable about Bad Trip is the way that it depicts the public which it interacts with. The film never aims to humiliate or dehumanize its subjects—instead of being disparaged or mocked in the name of comedy, bystanders are portrayed as more of a righteous tribunal than mere crabs in a barrel. The reprehensible behavior showcased always stems from Andre, Haddish or Howery, with spectators taking it upon themselves to moralize and attempt to salvage any remaining shred of the incognito actors’ perceived dignity—perhaps all too perfectly exemplified in a scene with a parking lot Army recruiter who civilly declines Andre’s offer of a blowjob in exchange for execution during a profound period of hopelessness. This ability to invoke public reaction—with no rubric for hardline emotions that the actors must elicit—is what allows the fabric of Bad Trip’s humor to shine through. With the professional actors shouldering the burden of both maintaining character for the benefit of the film’s overarching narrative as well as ensuring that the orchestrated gags play perfectly, the public’s only obligation is reacting genuinely, whether that be expressing anger, frustration, disdain or bewilderment. It’s this spectrum of varied emotion that is woven into the very fabric of the film, giving it an overtly genuine tone. At times it is even surprisingly heartwarming, with good samaritans stepping in to talk characters off of ledges and break up public quarrels.


73. Lu Over the Wall

Year: 2018
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Stars: Kanon Tani, Shota Shimoda, Christine Marie Cabanos, Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh
Genre: Animated, Comedy

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Distributor GKids sells Lu Over the Wall as “family friendly,” which it is, an innocuous, offbeat alternative to the conventional computer animated joints typically found in modern multiplexes. But there’s “whimsical” and there’s “weird,” and Lu Over the Wall ventures well past the former and into the latter before director Masaaki Yuasa gets through the opening credits. Barely a moment goes by where we come close to touching base with reality: Even its most human beats, those precious hints of relatable qualities that encourage our empathy, are elongated, distorted, rendered nigh unrecognizable by exaggeration. Lu Over the Wall isn’t a movie that takes itself seriously, and for the average moviegoer, that’s very much a trait worth embracing. The plot is both simple and not: Teenager Kai (voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas in the English dub), recently relocated from Tokyo to the quiet fishing village of Hinashi, spends his days doing what most teenage boys do, sullenly hunkering down in his room and shutting out the world. As Kai struggles with his self-imposed isolation, he befriends Lu (Christine Marie Cabanos), a manic pixie dream mermaid wrought in miniature. What’s a solitary emo boy to do in a literal and figurative fish-out-of-water plot that’s buttressed by xenophobic overtones? Lu Over the Wall blends joy with political allegory with vibrant color palettes with storytelling magic, plus some actual magic, plus too many upbeat musical interludes to count. Describing the film merely as “creative” feels like an insult to its inspired madness. —Andy Crump


74. Crip Camp

Year: 2020
Director: James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham
Rating: R

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Crip Camp, a documentary about a summer camp for disabled teens, is a movie that, in a casual director’s hands, could turn very easily into a piece of exploitation honed in on adversity. But Jim Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham aren’t casual. They’re coworkers, having collaborated on three documentaries together over the past decade and a half, and Lebrecht, who has Spina Bifida, attended said summer camp in 1971. The film is a personal matter for Lebrecht, facilitated with his longtime colleague, and guided by their relationship, Crip Camp functions partly as a portrait and partly as advocacy. Half of it is spent strolling down memory lane, revisiting either through oral history or archival footage days at Camp Jened in the Catskills, where teenagers with disabilities—deaf teenagers, blind teenagers, teenagers who survived polio, teenagers with cerebral palsy—congregated under the care of hippy counselors. Here the teens, many for the first time in their lives, were treated simply as teens, and not as societal inconveniences. The other half of the movie unfolds against the backdrop of the battle for Section 504, fought in 1977, as disabled Americans, many of them former Jened campers, organized protests and a famous sit-in to persuade Joseph Califano to sign the important regulations into law. The campaign for disabled rights deserves a spotlight for its own merits, as this isn’t really a chapter in history standardly taught in American schools, but the specifics of Crip Camp’s subject speaks to a broader, urgent point about the power of community: When people unite under one banner for a common cause, there’s little they can’t accomplish. A message as timely as it is timeless. —Andy Crump


75. Dolemite Is My Name

Year: 2019
Director: Craig Brewer
Stars: Eddie Murphy, Keegan-Michael Key, Mike Epps, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
Genre: Comedy, Drama

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“I want the world to know I exist,” Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) declares in Dolemite Is My Name. Awareness on a grand scale is an ambitious goal—but it didn’t stop Moore from trying. Rudy Ray Moore is a multi-hyphenate performer looking to propel his comedy career. After seeing Rico (Ron Cephas Jones), the local homeless man that visits where Rudy works, do stand-up, Moore decides to steal and refine Rico’s material. He assumes the character of Dolemite, a sharp, vulgar pimp who oozes confidence, and the “new” material kills in local clubs. Eventually, Moore signs a comedy record deal and charts on Billboard. Emboldened, he sets a new goal: to make a Dolemite film, exhausting all his personal expenses to do so. At the heart of Dolemite Is My Name is the smooth-talking man himself, played by Eddie Murphy. The actor has, since 2012, been quiet in the public eye, taking years-long breaks between films. In 2016, he resurfaced for the drama Mr. Church, his performance praised but the film critically panned. Being hailed as his “comeback” role, Dolemite finds Murphy in fit comedy shape, tackling this lead part with gusto. He embraces Moore’s slightly goofy enthusiasm and can-do attitude without a hint of mocking. For a character like Dolemite, so deeply rooted in the Blaxploitation era of the ’70s and frankly riddled with so many stereotypical elements, Murphy succeeds by being earnest, even when delivering Dolemite’s raunchiest lines. He reminds us he’s one of the best at balancing drama and comedy. A figure who could have been an offensive caricature in the wrong hands, Dolemite, in Craig Brewer’s film, is so much more; we go beyond the surface of the character, exploring one man’s quest for stardom and the entrepreneurial risks he took to be the talk of the town. We get a film befitting of Moore’s legacy while simultaneously reminding audiences the star power of Eddie Murphy. —Joi Childs


76. Becoming

Year: 2020
Director: Nadia Hallgren
Stars: Michelle Obama
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR

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There seem to be two goals of Netflix’s new Michelle Obama documentary—first, to humanize (or normalize) the former First Lady of the United States as she embarks on a countrywide book tour (for her bestseller of the same name), and second, to reinforce the idea that Michelle Obama is a woman necessarily and eternally concerned with race and racism in America, particularly for Black women. The first goal is achieved, almost as much as it can be, and the personal stories and appearance of family members like her mother and brother are the strongest part of the Becoming experience. The second goal is a little more complicated, largely due to the fact that Michelle Obama occupies a strange space as a figure who is neither a politician, nor an activist—but who often presents like one or the other. Nadia Hallgren’s film is an attempt at a portrait of a lady seemingly on fire, now that she’s “free at last.” In an early scene, Obama and billionaire Oprah Winfrey laugh as they candidly discuss the relief that came with the end of her time in the White House. Becoming is about the “liberation” of Michelle Obama, and it takes care to remind us of all that she endured on the road to the White House. There’s a hollowness sometimes echoed in Obama’s celebrity interviews (on her press tour, she sits down with the likes of Oprah, Stephen Colbert, Gayle King and Reese Witherspoon), but something far more interesting happens when Obama is working as a mentor. In several scenes, she sits down with small groups—groups of Black women, young female students, Native American students in Arizona, and older black women in the church. In one especially compelling scene, we go home with Shayla, a teen in one of the groups, and we get to know the women who are inspired by Obama’s story of becoming. Watching a young black girl, giddy as she imitates the former First Lady’s walk down a hall, we get the sense that the mere experience of being in the same space as Obama will change some of these girls forever. They light up the screen in this documentary; they are the true stars, and they bring the real magic to this story. —Shannon M. Houston


77. Ravenous

Year: 2017
Director: Robin Aubert
Stars: Marc-André Grondin, Monia Chokri, Brigitte Poupart, Luc Proulx, Charlotte St-Martin
Rating: NR

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Genre geeks didn’t seem to take a lot of notice of Ravenous, beyond its Best Canadian Film award at the Toronto International Film Festival—perhaps the result of an “indie zombie drama” subgenre that seems to have run its course through films such as The Battery, and perhaps because it’s performed in French rather than English. Regardless, this is a competently crafted little drama thriller for the zombie completist, full of excellent performances from no-name actors and an intriguing take on the results of zombification. The infected here at times seem like your standard Romero ghouls, but they’re also a bit more: lost souls who have hung onto some kind of strange, rudimentary culture all their own. These aspects of the zombie plague are always hinted at, never extrapolated, but it enhances the profound feelings of loss and sadness present in Ravenous. —Jim Vorel


78. The Disaster Artist

Year: 2017
Director: James Franco
Stars: James Franco, Seth Rogan, Dave Franco, Alison Brie
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R

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To tackle the ineffable mystery of Tommy Wiseau’s consciousness is to understand the mind of a crocodile, or of a shark, or of a space alien. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Which is precisely what makes James Franco’s portrayal of Wiseau in The Disaster Artist such an impressive and triumphant one. Franco has physically transformed into Wiseau in the same manner that usually draws praise for an actor such as Daniel Day Lewis: not necessarily via hair or makeup, but in a way that is more primal and intimate. Every odd little tic, every awkward laugh, each inexplicable grimace—the gestures all shine through as genuine to anyone who has seen The Room, or even an interview with Wiseau. The portrayal is a huge part of what makes The Disaster Artist so compelling and just plain fun. You could make a good argument that this is the greatest role of Franco’s career. And even if The Disaster Artist reads like it’s positioning for a shot at year-end honors and the largest possible audience, fans of The Room will ultimately get far more from the experience than the average multiplex dweller. It’s a film to see with an audience familiar with what it’s about to see, with people who can appreciate the dedication with which Franco and co. have recreated so many of the original film’s woeful charm. —Jim Vorel


79. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Year: 2018
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Tim Blake Nelson, Bill Heck, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Tom Waits, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson
Genre: Western, Drama, Comedy
Rating: R

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As much an anthology of post-bellum adventure stories as it is a retrospective of the many kinds of films the Coen brothers have made—not to mention a scathing bit of fantasy curbed against the stories we’ve used to water down the tragedy of our country’s growth—The Ballad of Buster Scruggs tells six tales of greed, murder, mercy and the harsh mistress of blind chance, the only through line being the bleakness of the horizon America trampled to stake its imperial claim. A musty traveling showman (Liam Neeson) weighs the burden of his limbless performer (Harry Melling) against each night’s measly cash-out; a lone prospector (Tom Waits) patiently divines the vein of gold he refers to respectfully as “Mr. Pocket”; a cocky outlaw (James Franco) swings between the two sides of fate, his whole life leading to a semi-decent punchline; a disparate collection of travelers argue about the vicissitudes of faith while a bounty hunted corpse sits atop their carriage, all five heading towards some ambiguous symbolism; and the titular mellifluous gunslinger finally meets his match, making for one of the strangest sights the Coens have ever conjured. With the downhome nihilism of No Country for Old Men and Fargo, the mythological whimsy of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the back-breaking metaphysical weight of A Serious Man or the cutting capers of Raising Arizona, the whole of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs—shot as a series of awe-inspiring vistas by DP Bruno Delbonnel punctuated by the porous mugs of the pioneers who populate them—sings to an unparalleled canon of genres and tones. That its centerpiece is a sweet romance, between a quiet young woman (Zoe Kazan) and a noble cowboy (Bill Heck) leading her wagon train along the Oregon Trail, proves that the Coens still have beautiful surprises in store more than three decades deep into their career-long odyssey of American life. —Dom Sinacola


80. Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

Year: 2019
Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Documentary, Musical
Rating: NR

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Bob Dylan’s life and career are so encased in myth that it can be hard to untangle the romanticism from the reality. As much a symbol as he is a man, Dylan has spent most of his adulthood resisting being labeled the voice of his generation while slyly welcoming fans’ desire to dissect his every utterance, devoting much of the last couple decades opening up the vaults to release a series of official “bootleg” recordings associated with his most iconic albums and tours. He invites us to look deeper and listen harder, as if the answers can be gleaned from closer study. Long before David Bowie, Tom Waits, Madonna or Lady Gaga dabbled in persona play, Robert Zimmerman made us ponder masks in popular music. He’s both there and not there, which can be frustrating and fascinating. Both sensations are on display in Rolling Thunder Revue, the oft-spectacular, sometimes shtick-y chronicle of Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour. As is typical when depicting anything in the Dylan universe, this concert film/documentary simultaneously oversells its subject’s genius and provides overwhelming evidence of what a brilliant artist he is. The documentary’s full title should also be a disclaimer: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese. Early on, the movie features a contemporary interview from Dylan confessing that he doesn’t quite remember what prompted Rolling Thunder or what his ambitions were. “I don’t have a clue because it’s about nothing,” he says, another example of obscuration and seduction. The movie is a “story,” which means some parts might be invented or exaggerated, and because it’s “by Martin Scorsese,” the whole film is filtered through one artist’s perspective on another. Scorsese is after something grander than mere documentation—more layers of myth are applied while trying to present an honest account of a tour and a performer. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Rolling Thunder Revue is overlong but also overpowering, inconclusive yet undeniably stirring. It left me exhausted, but I kinda want to see it again. —Tim Grierson


81. Shutter

Year: 2004
Directors: Bangjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom
Stars: Ananda Everingham, Natthaweeranuch Thongmee, Achita Sikamana
Rating: NR

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Right around the same time when the American horror film market was excitedly green-lighting remakes of Japanese horror films such as The Ring and The Grudge, Thailand produced what is likely its largest genre hit to date, Shutter. This is an uncomplicated, old-school kind of haunting story that is given a modern twist in its reveal of the connection between victim and tormenter—themes that are handled more fluidly here than in the overly dramaticized 2008 American remake of the same name. It thrives on the strength of its two central performances, particularly that of Ananda Everingham, who plays a man whose sins come back to revisit him, big-time. The final nature of his personal haunting is captured on a screen in a way that is both scary and familiar feeling, with an “urban legend”-like quality that sounds like it would make for a perfect campfire story. With that ending in particular, it’s little wonder that the American remake followed, but the Thai original more accurately conveys the film’s eventual tone of social criticism. —Jim Vorel


82. I Am Divine

Year: 2014
Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Stars: Divine, John Waters, Michael Musto, Ricki Lake
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NR

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Jeffrey Schwarz’s I Am Divine covers the life of Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead) from his early childhood in conservative Baltimore through his rise to fame as the “most beautiful woman in the world.” The story of Divine is intertwined with the story of the Dreamlanders—Divine’s adopted family, a group of people who joined forces to create a safe space to express who they were without fear of judgement from the rest of the world. Warhol’s Factory did the same thing (Schwarz makes a number of allusions to Warhol), but where Warhol grew to resent his superstars, John Waters, Divine, Mink Stole and the rest of them all seemed to genuinely like one another. What Schwarz uncovers in his movie—or at least, what he illuminates—is how kind, quiet and generous Milstead was, despite his outrageous alter ego. Through a series of interviews with former collaborators, friends and family, Schwarz helps paint a picture of an extraordinary boy who lived so far outside what was considered “normal,” he had no choice but to blaze his own trail. In turn, I Am Divine leaves one with was a sense that all things are possible. After all, John Waters and Divine—without experience, without contacts, without money—accomplished what Hollywood continually fails to do. —Lee Tyler


83. It Comes at Night

Year: 2017
Director: Trey Edward Shults
Stars: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough
Rating: R

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Within seconds, It Comes at Night haunts you. In the scene from which writer/director Trey Edward Shults says the rest of his script sprung, in the very first images of the film, an old man (David Pendleton) wheezes while covered, his skin festering, in boils. It’s clear: He isn’t long for this world. Shults and DP Drew Daniels hold his face in close-up as if they’re cradling him, trying to make his passing easier. Each successive detail is revealed with a carefulness that could only be described as some sort of deep, abiding empathy for the characters, any characters, Shults has on screen: first comes the man’s defeated face, his labored breathing, then the muffled voices of reassurance, telling him it’s OK to let go and that he’s loved. Then we see that the voices are muffled because they’re coming from gas masks. Then we watch as the people wearing gas masks roll the old man in a wheelbarrow out to the woods where they shoot him in the head and incinerate his corpse in a hole. It Comes at Night is ostensibly a horror movie, moreso than Shults’s debut, Krisha, but even Krisha was more of a horror movie than most measured family dramas typically are. Perhaps knowing this, Shults calls It Comes at Night an atypical horror movie, but—it’s already obvious after only two of these—Shults makes horror movies to the extent that everything in them is laced with dread, and every situation suffocated with inevitability. For his sophomore film, adorned with a much larger budget than Krisha and cast with some real indie star power compared to his previous cast (of family members doing him a solid), Shults imagines a near future as could be expected from a somber flick like this. A “sickness” has ravaged the world and survival is all that matters for those still left. In order to keep their shit together enough to keep living, the small group of people in Shults’s film have to accept the same things the audience does: That important characters will die, tragedy will happen and the horror of life is about the pointlessness of resisting the tide of either. So it makes sense that It Comes at Night is such an open wound of a watch, pained with regret and loss and the mundane ache of simply existing: Throughout we feel as if we’re saying goodbye to these characters even as we’re just getting to know them. It’s trauma as tone poem, bittersweet down to its bones, a triumph of empathetic, soul-shaking movie-making. —Dom Sinacola


84. Chef

Year: 2015
Director: Jon Favreau
Stars: Jon Favreau, Sofía Vergara, John Leguizamo
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating: R

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Jon Favreau took a break between the $163 million dollar Cowboys & Aliens and Disney’s live-action remake of The Jungle Book to write, direct and star in a small indie comedy-drama about a celebrated chef rediscovering his love for food. When the owner of his restaurant (Dustin Hoffman) won’t let him experiment in the kitchen and his social-media ignorance leads to a very public feud with a food critic (Oliver Platt), he quits and buys a food truck. The road-trip that follows is the sweet, earnest heart of the film—reconnecting with his son as he reconnects with a passion for food. There’s not much to the straight-forward plot, but the film’s humor and mouth-watering food porn make it a treat. —Josh Jackson


85. My Happy Family

Year: 2017
Directors: Nana Ekvtimishvili, Simon Groß
Stars: Ia Shugliashvili, Merab Ninidze, Berta Khapava
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR

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It’s a shame Netflix felt like Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Groß’s My Happy Family deserved a burial, that the company didn’t bother pushing the film for awards season and neglected to give it a boost in visibility for the average consumer. Because Ekvtimishvili and Groß’s latest collaboration in a long line of collaborations is superb, timely and altogether unexpected in its unwavering grace. Compared to the year’s other films centered on dysfunctional families, whether hammy (I, Tonya) or naturalist (Lady Bird), My Happy Family is a gentle tribute to dignity: Manana (Ia Shugliashvili) is never less than noble in her constant dedication to her family, even as she determines that to preserve her sanity she must move out of the apartment she shares with them and lay down roots in a pad of her own. My Happy Family doesn’t judge Manana—it validates her. It illustrates a woman’s liberation from social and familial expectations, allowing Manana to discover who she is, what she wants and where she’s going without looking down on her. But My Happy Family is a small film with grand artistic ambitions, and both Ekvtimishvili and Groß know that Manana’s bliss has its limit. They know that eventually the matters of her husband and children, plus their extended family, must be reconciled. Still, My Happy Family shows a benevolent kind of restraint by ending on a note of uncertainty, sparing us the lion’s share of that work, its ultimate lingering ambiguity a thing of honorable beauty. —Andy Crump


86. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Year: 2018
Director: Susan Johnson
Stars: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish
Genre: Romance, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97
Rating: NR

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the teen scene’s newest runaway hit, is a flat-out excellent film. It is not excellent “for a teen flick.” It is not excellent “for a romantic comedy.” It is excellent for a film. TATBILB fully inverts the 80/20 ratio: Within the first 20 minutes, all five of the deeply private love letters our daydreamy, emotionally buttoned-up protagonist Lara Jean (Lana Condor) has written to her childhood crushes over the years have been stolen and mailed out—including the one to her neighbor and best friend, Josh (Israel Broussard), who just happens to also be her older sister’s just barely ex-boyfriend. This swift puncturing of any protracted emotional dishonesty Lara Jean might have hoped to indulge in, well, forever, leaves the film’s final eighty minutes free for her to embrace some really radical emotional honesty. That TATBILB allows Lara Jean to accomplish this not in spite of but through the fanfic-favorite trope of “fake dating” another, less-risky letter recipient (Noah Centineo’s ridiculously charming Peter Kavinsky) is a story strength. Of course, all the emotional honesty in the world wouldn’t matter if TATBILB’s leads didn’t burn with chemistry. Fortunately, Lana Condor and Noah Centineo can get it. Condor and Centineo are undeniably the stars of the show, but TATBILB doesn’t rest on their charismatic laurels: Mahoro as Luc posteras is a foxy ball of friendliness; Madeleine Arthur as Lara Jean’s best (girl) friend, Chris, is just the wide-eyed punk weirdo she needs to be; Janel Parrish plays against type as the sweet and steel-spined Margot; Anna Cathcart steals every scene as Lara Jean’s meddling little sis, Kitty; and John Corbett plays the healthily engaged version of Kat Stratford’s single OBGYN dad with a discernible glee. The importance of Lara Jean and her sisters being half-Korean, and the majority of the cast (along with Mahoro) non-white, is hard to overstate, but it isn’t the most impressive thing about the cast by a long shot. In a genre that can so often see its characters lean too far into caricature, Lara Jean’s world is instead populated with teens—and through them, love—you can believe in. —Alexis Gunderson


87. Private Life

Year: 2018
Director: Tamara Jenkins
Stars: Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn, Kayli Carter, Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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A rich film with the confidence to take its time, allowing its characters to unfurl and its themes to grow and develop, Private Life is a quietly remarkable comedy-drama about family, marriage and getting older. To accomplish all that, writer-director Tamara Jenkins uses as her entryway a familiar scenario: a 40-something couple struggling to have a baby. Led by terrific, tricky performances from Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn, Private Life keeps shifting and surprising, never offering anything dramatically monumental but speaking precisely about the bonds between people—how they can be threatened but also renewed. Giamatti and Hahn play Richard and Rachel, who have been married for quite some time, each of them enjoying a satisfying creative life in New York City. But in recent years, they’ve struggled to conceive, a process that no amount of fertility treatments has been able to remedy. Private Life devotes a significant amount of its early running time to showing how couples such as Richard and Rachel undergo IVF, which has its comic moments but is largely depressingly clinical. (Adding to the despair are the long lines of other expectant couples Richard and Rachel see in the waiting rooms sitting alongside them.) But Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills, The Savages) uses the couple’s struggles to discuss far more intriguing subject matter. It’s not simply the inability to have a child that eats at these two people. Their failure to conceive hints that they’re not young anymore and, with that, exacerbates the feelings of regret they have about the career decisions they made. Did they focus on their art at the expense of parenthood? Now that the shine is off their early creative success, is their barrenness another indication of their growing irrelevance? Perhaps most pressingly, are they obsessing about having a child because, deep down, they know their marriage has troubles? The inability to conceive bothers Richard, but for Rachel, it’s a deeper wound—one that goes far beyond being deprived of motherhood. Hahn and Jenkins make the woman’s pain palpable, layered and also a bit ineffable, illustrating how people reach middle age not entirely sure how they got there or where they’re headed next. —Tim Grierson


88. The Karate Kid

Year: 1984
Director: John G. Avildsen
Stars: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka
Genre: Drama, Action
Rating: PG

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Ralph Macchio’s crane-legged Karate Kid would become an icon of the ’80s, as would Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, the sensei who trains the bullied Daniel LaRusso in martial arts. Although many of the scenes can feel a little worn and trope-laden, that’s mostly due to how much the film has been copied in the years since its release. It was the sort of feature that defined karate to an entire generation of young kids and must have inspired countless dojo openings and yellow belt ceremonies. It also features one of the great villains of ’80s cinema in the merciless Cobra Kai coach, Sensei John Kreese: “Sweep the leg, Johnny.” —Josh Jackson


89. The Artist

Year: 2011
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman
Genre: Drama, Romance
Rating: PG-13

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In his black-and-white ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood, Gallic writer-director Michael Hazanavicius honors form as well as content, packaging his romantic melodrama about the rise of a new ingénue and the fall of a silent movie star in 1920s and ’30s Los Angeles in luxurious black, white, and shades of shimmering silver. It’s a beautiful, ambitious, nostalgic endeavor that demonstrates its makers are, indeed, artists. —Annlee Ellingson


90. Gerald’s Game

Year: 2017
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood
Rating: N/A

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Director Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game trims fat, condenses and slims, stripping away some of the odder quirks of Stephen King’s novel to get at the heart of themes underneath. The result is a tense, effective thriller that goes out of its way to highlight two strong actors (Bruce Greenwood and Carla Gugino) in an unfettered celebration of their craft. This is nothing new for Flanagan, whose recent output in the horror genre has been commendable. It’s hard to overlook some of the recurring themes in his work, beginning with 2011’s Absentia and all the way through the wildly imaginative Oculus, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil. Every one of these films centers around a strong-willed female lead, as does Gerald’s Game. Is this coincidence? Or is the director drawn to stories that reflect the struggle of women to claim independence in their lives by shedding old scars or ghosts, be they literal or figurative? Either way, it made Flanagan an obvious fit for Gerald’s Game, an unassuming, overachieving little thriller that is blessed by two performers capable of handling the lion’s share of the dramatic challenges it presents. —Jim Vorel


91. Snowden

Year: 2016
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is key to Snowden’s place in Stone’s oeuvre as another exceptional take on the nature of heroism. It’s every bit as complicated and ambiguous as Stone’s previous films on the subject, but the complexity is all internal—from Stone’s point of view, there’s no real questioning the fact that Snowden is a patriot and a hero. The questioning comes from within, as Snowden becomes less a film about heroism than about the physical and psychic costs of heroism—and whether or not they’re worth it. Stone and his actors (not just Gordon-Levitt, but Shailene Woodley, superb in an essential role as the woman Snowden loves) mine this material so thoroughly that when Snowden does allow itself moments of triumph they’re completely earned. This may be Stone’s most genuinely inspiring film since Born on the Fourth of July and his most poignant and romantic next to World Trade Center. Yet it’s also, at times, his bleakest work, a chilling horror film about the surveillance state under which we all live. That all of these tones—and a wide array in between—can exist coherently in the same film is indicative of Snowden’s success. It’s one of the best movies Stone has ever made—and easily one of the best of the year. —Jim Hemphill


92. The Half of It

Year: 2020
Director: Alice Wu
Stars: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Rating: NR

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Netflix’s The Half of It begins somewhat deceptively, with a highly stylized animated retelling of an old Greek myth in which the four-armed, four-legged, two-headed humans of ancient times are sundered by the gods and wander about forever in search of the other half of their single heart. It ends with a scene between a boy and a girl, something that normally would come right out of a dopey rom-com, but in a way that subverts the trope on every level, from the inversion of its meaning to the quiet, intimate naturalism with which it is filmed. It’s a fitting juxtaposition because the film sandwiched between the two moments is about the fallacies that drive our neat and tidy narratives about love. Love is messy is the point, one called out aloud by main character Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) in Alice Wu’s short little film about a Chinese-American high schooler whose incredible writing skills find her hired to help her classmate, the kindhearted but far less charming Paul (Daniel Diemer), woo another girl. Paul does not realize that Ellie shares his unrequited desire for Aster (Alexxis Lemire), and that every sweet late-night text and smoldering note passed in class is tearing Ellie apart. If the story borrows its central conceit from Cyrano de Bergerac, it at least puts a few interesting spins on it: Ellie is an outsider in unique ways. She is the only Asian student at her school, an immigrant whose underemployed and linguistically challenged father struggles to run her household. She is the student who is so good at writing that she runs a side hustle writing papers for her entire class. And then there’s the other little matter of her feeling same-sex attraction in a stiflingly small, overwhelmingly Christian town. It’s a unique twist on a familiar story in a film that universalizes feelings of otherness for the audience, whether they come from being the runt of the litter or the child of an immigrant struggling to make it in America. —Kenneth Lowe


93. The Platform

Year: 2019
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Stars: Iván Massagué, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan, Emilio Buale Coka, Alexandra Masangkay
Rating: NR

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The Platform benefits immensely from the strength of its simple, high-concept premise and all the superfluous information that is withheld from the viewer. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know why exactly people are placed into this diabolical, vertical prison structure, in which the only sustenance arrives once a day in the form of a steadily descending, increasingly gross stone slab piled high with perishables. Nor do we really need to know how this apparent social experiment operates, although the repeated glimpses we get at cooks slaving over perfect dishes to be sent down to the doomed convicts is no doubt designed to needle at our curiosity. What matters is that we observe the differences in human reaction to this plight—the ways that different personalities react to adversity with an “us or them” mentality, or a predatory hunger, or a spontaneous drive toward self-sacrificing altruism. The fact that the position of the prisoners is constantly in flux is key—it gives them both a tangible reason to be the change they want to see in their world, and an almost impossible temptation to do the exact opposite out of distrust of their neighbors. One expects a nihilistic streak here, and you won’t be disappointed—but there’s a few glimmers of hope shining through the cracks as well. Just enough, perhaps, to twist the knife that much deeper. —Jim Vorel


94. Always Be My Maybe

Year: 2019
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Stars: Ali Wong, Randall Park, Keanu Reeves, Michelle Buteau, Vivian Bang, Karan Soni
Rating: PG-13

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A film written by and starring Ali Wong and Randall Park was always guaranteed to be a home run, but the endlessly funny and charming Always Be My Maybe truly exceeds all romcom expectations. The duo (who penned the script with Michael Golamco) play childhood friends who lose touch after an impulsive teenage romance ends badly. From there, Wong’s Sasha becomes a celebrity chef as Park’s Marcus continues to live at home and work for his father’s blue collar business after his mother’s tragic passing. They each have things to learn from one another, sure, but Always Be My Maybe doesn’t just end when romance blossoms; it leans into the complications of two adults with independent lives choosing to be together and figuring out how to make it all work. Part of that, crucially, includes both Marcus and Sasha playing supportive roles in one another’s careers rather than compromising and giving up their passions to be together. Director Nahnatchka Khan keeps the stylish film moving at a pleasant comedic clip throughout, and there’s a killer cameo appearance you will not want spoiled before you see the movie. Seriously, you should watch it right now. —Allison Keene


95. The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Year: 2017
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Stars: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Camp
Rating: R

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In the uncanny valley of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, characters resemble human beings…but not entirely. In movies such as Dogtooth and The Lobster, the Greek writer-director has become a maestro of the queasy/funny horror-comedy, turning our universal anxieties into psychologically rich satires in which life’s mundane surfaces give way to dark, often bloody realities we don’t want to acknowledge. His movies are funny because they’re so shocking and disturbing because they’re so true. But for them to really soar, their provocations need to be grounded in recognizable behavior, which gives Lanthimos a foundation to then stretch his extreme stories past their breaking point. With his latest, we see what happens when his underlying ideas are not as complex as the intricacies of his execution. The Killing of a Sacred Deer reunites Lanthimos with his Lobster star Colin Farrell, who plays Steven, a cardiologist, who’s married to an ophthalmologist, Anna (Nicole Kidman). They have two children, teen Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and her younger brother Bob (Sunny Suljic). It would be hard to describe their personalities because, in typical Lanthimos fashion, they don’t really have any. Quickly, Sacred Deer introduces us to the fly in this particular ointment. His name is Martin (Barry Keoghan), a moody teen who seems as lobotomized as the other characters. There’s one crucial difference, though: He has befriended Steven for reasons that feel sinister but will only eventually become clear, and he keeps insinuating himself into the man’s world. It wouldn’t be much fun to reveal where Sacred Deer goes from there, but Sacred Deer may be Lanthimos’s most visually and sonically ambitious work—technically, it’s pristine—clever without ever quite deciding precisely what it’s about. —Tim Grierson


96. Hush

Year: 2016
Director: Mike Flanagan
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Michael Trucco, Kate Siegel
Rating: R

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Hush is a simple, intimate film at heart, and one that takes more than a few cues from Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers, among other home-invasion thrillers. Director Mike Flanagan, whose Oculus is one of the decade’s better, more underrated horror films, remains a promising voice in horror, although Hush plays things considerably safer than that ambitious haunted mirror tale did. Here, the gimmick is that the sole woman being menaced by a masked intruder outside her woodland home is in fact deaf and mute—i.e., she can’t hear him coming or call for help. At first, the film appears as if it will truly echo The Strangers and keep both the killer’s identity and motivations secretive, but those expectations are subverted surprisingly quickly. It all boils down into more or less exactly the type of cat-and-mouse game you would expect, but the film manages to elevate itself in a couple of ways. First is the performance of actress Kate Siegel as protagonist Maddie, who displays just the right level of both vulnerability and resolve, without making too many of the boneheaded slasher film character choices that encourage you to stand up and yell at the screen. Second is the tangible sense of physicality the film manages in its scenes of violence, which are satisfyingly visceral. Ultimately it’s the villain who may leave a little something to be desired at times, but Hush is at the very least a satisfying way to spend a night in with Netflix. —Jim Vorel


97. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Year: 2020
Director: David Dobkins
Stars: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan
Rating: PG-13

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Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is—let’s be honest here—a bit on the thin side, and a little confusing. It’s got just enough sincerity to undermine its own satirical impulses and just enough pandering snark to undermine its own sincerity. It runs long, and it leans on a trope, Ferrell’s master trope and the common denominator in most of his best performances—the lovable but fundamentally clueless and self-absorbed man-baby who can’t get out of his own way. It’s a trope that, thanks to Ferrell himself, we have mined pretty thoroughly in comedy over the last few decades. And yet, even as Eurovision Song Contest makes a number of perplexing moves in its two-hour-plus runtime, you kind of can’t help rooting for it, and for its principal characters, because its refusal to be cynical operates as a vital, oxygenating escape hatch right now.—Amy Glynn


98. Rain Man

Year: 1988
Director: Barry Levinson
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino
Genre: Drama
Rating: R

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In this Oscar-winning Best Picture, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) embarks on a road trip with his newly discovered brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). It’s not an intentional happy-go-lucky jaunt, though—Charlie is simply trying to get more of his recently deceased father’s $3 million estate, most of which he left to the autistic Raymond. Charlie gets to learn more about his brother and his mental tics like having to stop everything in order to watch Jeopardy! and buying underwear strictly from Kmart. Hoffman is undeniably good, and his performance as a savant earned him a Best Actor in a Leading Role award. But Cruise’s portrayal of a high-strung professional who transforms into a caring brother is also a treasure. The tender moments are just as important as the comical—and the blend of laughter and tears are skillfully spread out in this 1988 classic. —Shawn Christ


99. Beasts of No Nation

Year: 2015
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Stars: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Kurt Egyiawan, Jude Akuwudike
Rating: TV-MA

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Netflix’s debut venture into filmmaking tackles the dark reality of child soldiers. Beasts of No Nation stars Idris Elba as a nameless Commandant recruiting children for war in an unnamed country in Africa. A civil war has left many children without a family, and the Commandant takes full advantage of the young boys’ vulnerabilities, particularly one boy called Agu (Abraham Attah). By the end, the children form a full-fledged army under the Commandant, mercilessly killing and conquering as a group. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) directs. —Alice Barsky


100. Space Sweepers

Year: 2021
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Stars: Song Joong-ki, Kim Tae-ri, Jin Seon-kyu, Yoo Hae-jin
Rating: NR

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Netflix introduced its audience to Southeast Asian big-budget sci-fi with the Chinese film The Wandering Earth, a mess of a story that was still beautiful to look at. Space Sweepers, from Korean filmmaker Jo Sung-hee, is a much more cohesive and coherent offering with just as much flash. The dystopian setting sees the head of a giant tech company creating an Eden on Mars, essentially consigning most of humanity to poverty and pollution. A ragtag team of space-junk collectors is each looking after their own self-interest when they find a mysterious young girl who entangles them in much larger worries. With compelling characters, thrilling action sequences and an engaging plot, it’s a strong entry for Korea’s first sci-fi blockbuster. —Josh Jackson